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Stocks end mixed ahead of U.S.-China trade talks

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2018, file photo an American flag flies outside New York Stock Exchange. Sto
A U.S. flag flies outside the New York Stock Exchange on Nov. 20.
(Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)

Wall Street capped a day of mostly listless trading with a mixed finish Monday as gains in industrial companies, banks and energy stocks outweighed losses elsewhere.

Small-company stocks fared better than the rest of the market as investors shifted focus away from the tail end of a relatively strong corporate earnings season and looked ahead to key trade talks between the U.S. and China this week.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin is leading a delegation set to meet with Chinese officials Thursday and Friday. The talks are aimed at resolving a trade war that threatens to stunt global economic growth, in part by raising prices on goods for consumers and companies. The situation could get worse when a truce on tariffs expires in early March.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 53.22 points, or 0.2%, to 25,053.11. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 1.92 points, or 0.1%, to 2,709.80. The Nasdaq composite added 9.71 points, or 0.1%, to 7,307.90. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks gained 12.59 points, or 0.8%, to 1,518.98.

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Companies have mostly reported better-than-expected earnings for the last three months of 2018. Still, concerns have been building about whether profits can keep growing this year, especially after companies’ strong gains in 2018 following a sweeping corporate tax cut.

So far, 66.4% of companies in the S&P 500 have reported earnings, with 69% beating analysts’ forecasts. Earnings growth comes in at 14.5% for the quarter. But some companies have tempered their outlooks and analysts expect a 2% contraction in the first quarter.

Traders also were keeping an eye on the negotiations in Washington aimed at averting another federal government shutdown.

Tesla got a boost from Canaccord Genuity analysts, who upgraded the stock from “hold” to “buy.” The analysts noted that results for the last two quarters and the electric car maker’s outlook have removed “significant concerns” about the production and profitability of the Model 3, the company’s car designed for the mass market. Meanwhile, LMC Automotive estimated that the Model 3 was the top-selling luxury car in the U.S. last year, outselling the Lexus ES by more than 2 to 1. Shares in Tesla gained 2.3% to $312.84.

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Traders also bid up shares in Chipotle Mexican Grill. The restaurant chain hired documentary filmmaker Errol Morris to create ads showcasing its kitchens, prep routines and partners. Morris is the director of the Oscar-winning documentary “Fog of War.” The Mexican-food chain is still rehabilitating its image years after a series of food-borne illnesses scared away customers and drove sales lower. Chipotle shares rose 3.5% to $603.36.

Activision Blizzard shares sank 7.6% to $40.11 after a Bloomberg report saying the video game company plans to announce layoffs Tuesday, when it’s scheduled to report quarterly results.

U.S. benchmark crude fell 0.6% to $52.41 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the standard for international oil prices, dropped 1% to close at $61.51 a barrel in London.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 2.65% from 2.63% late Friday.

The dollar rose to 110.40 yen from 109.77 yen Friday. The euro weakened to $1.1276 from $1.1324.

Gold fell 0.5% to $1,311.90 an ounce. Silver lost 0.8% to $15.69 an ounce.


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