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Stocks’ listless day closes out a volatile August

New York Stock Exchange
The Wall Street entrance of the New York Stock Exchange.
(Richard Drew / Associated Press)

Major U.S. stock indexes ended little changed Friday after a listless day of trading ahead of the Labor Day holiday weekend capped a solid week of gains for the market.

A flurry of buying late in the session gave the Standard & Poor’s 500 index its third straight gain. The benchmark index also snapped a string of four weekly losses. Even so, the market closed out August with its second monthly decline this year, after May.

Financial, industrial and healthcare stocks were among the big winners. Those sectors outweighed losses in consumer goods makers and communication services stocks. Shares in companies that rely on consumer spending also fell.

The stock indexes wavered between small gains and losses through much of the day, with trading volumes lighter than usual.

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“Going into a holiday weekend you just have three days here where you’re not going to be able to reposition, so people are probably taking some profits and squaring their books ahead of the weekend,” said Sameer Samana, senior global market strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute.

The S&P 500 edged up 1.88 points, or 0.1%, to 2,926.46. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 41.03 points, or 0.2%, to 26,403.28. The Nasdaq gave up an early gain, ending down 10.51 points, or 0.1%, at 7,962.88. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks slipped 1.88 points, or 0.1%, to 1,494.84.

The major indexes stemmed their August slide this week, but they still ended the month with losses. The Dow dropped 1.7%, the S&P 500 lost 1.8% and the Nasdaq gave up 2.6%. The Russell took the heaviest losses for the month, falling 5.1%.

Trading turned volatile in August as investors worried that the escalating U.S.-China trade war and a slowing global economy could tip the United States into a recession. The bond market seemingly confirmed these fears when long-term bond yields fell below short-term ones, a so-called inversion in the U.S. yield curve that has portended previous recessions.

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“We found the limits of how far both the U.S. and the Chinese side can push the trade issue until it actually starts to manifest itself in markets,” Samana said. “And where you probably saw the bulk of that reaction is in the fixed-income market. That’s why you saw long-term yields basically collapse.”

Bond prices initially fell Friday, pushing yields higher, but then lost momentum. That pushed long-term bond yields further below short-term ones. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 1.50% from 1.51% late Thursday. The 2-year Treasury yield dropped to 1.51% from 1.55% the day before.

Some of the Trump administration’s additional tariffs on Chinese products are slated to take effect Sunday and others on Dec. 15. In addition, higher tariffs on a separate group of Chinese products are to take effect Oct. 1.

Still, investors were encouraged by a Chinese government statement Thursday that its penalties on U.S. products are adequate. That suggested Beijing might be pausing in the tit-for-tat cycle of tariff increases that has raised fears the global economy might tip into recession.

Negotiators meet next month in Washington after the latest round of talks in July in Shanghai produced no sign of progress.

Investors also weighed a mixed batch of corporate earnings reports Friday.

Campbell Soup rose 3.9% and Big Lots added 3.4%. Both companies reported quarterly profits that easily beat analysts’ forecasts. Ulta Beauty plunged 29.6%, its biggest drop ever, after the company reported weak results and cut its estimates.

Benchmark crude oil fell $1.61 to settle at $55.10 a barrel. Brent crude oil, the international standard, fell 65 cents to close at $60.43 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline fell 7 cents, to $1.61 per gallon. Heating oil declined 3 cents, to $1.83 per gallon. Natural gas fell 1 cent, to $2.29 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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Gold fell $7.40, to $1519.10, per ounce; silver rose 2 cents, to $18.19 per ounce; and copper fell 3 cents, to $2.53 per pound.

U.S. markets will be closed Monday for Labor Day.


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