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Stocks slump after Trump says U.S.-China trade deal can wait

Investors had been hoping for a U.S.-China trade deal this year.
Investors had been hoping for a U.S.-China trade deal this year.
(Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images)

Stocks closed broadly lower and bond prices rose sharply on Wall Street on Tuesday after President Trump cast doubt on the potential for a U.S.-China trade deal this year.

Technology companies, banks and industrial firms accounted for much of the sell-off, which extended the Standard & Poor’s 500’s losing streak to a third day. Utilities and real estate stocks rose as traders favored less risky assets.

Trump said he has “no deadline” for a trade deal and doesn’t mind waiting until after the 2020 election. Investors had been hoping for a deal this year, or at least enough progress to stave off new U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods, including smartphones and laptops, that are scheduled to start Dec. 15.

Tensions between the two nations flared anew last week after Trump signed legislation expressing U.S. support for pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong.

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“We’re running out of time, and the markets are finally woken up to, ‘Hey, there’s a risk out there and maybe things aren’t going to be all good after all,’” said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab.

The S&P 500 index fell 20.67 points, or 0.7%, to 3,093.20. The Dow Jones industrial average slid 280.23 points, or 1%, to 27,502.81. Earlier in the day, it was down as much as 457 points.

The Nasdaq fell 47.34 points, or 0.6%, to 8,520.64. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks slipped 4.95 points, or 0.3%, to 1,602.63.

Pressure has been building on the U.S. and China to complete a limited trade deal, which Trump has called “Phase 1,” before the new tariffs on Chinese goods kick in Dec. 15.

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“We’re less than two weeks away from new tariffs that will be implemented on a bunch of consumer goods that have never had tariffs on them, and I think that’s when the consumer really starts to feel the pain,” Frederick said.

Wall Street is also weighing the potential for an expanded series of trade disputes. On Tuesday, Trump proposed tariffs on $2.4 billion worth of French products in retaliation for a tax on global tech giants, including Google, Amazon and Facebook. That follows a threat Monday to raise tariffs on steel and aluminum from Argentina and Brazil.

The lack of a trade deal before the year ends could mean the market is in for a turnaround from a strong, record-setting November. The S&P 500 had its best month since June, with a 3.4% gain, because of cooling trade tensions and optimism that a resolution to the dispute was near.

Two days of deflated hopes has already sent the S&P 500 down about 1.5% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq down 1.7%.

December is a typically solid month for the stock market, with the S&P 500 making gains regularly since the last recession ended in 2009. Last year, though, fears about a recession and rising interest rates hurt the major indexes.

On Tuesday, technology stocks led the losses. The sector is highly sensitive to twists in the trade dispute because many of the companies rely on China for sales and supply chains. Apple shares fell 1.8%. Intel slumped 2.8%.

Bank stocks suffered heavy losses as investors headed for the safety of bonds, pushing bond yields lower. Banks rely on higher bond yields to charge more lucrative interest rates on mortgages and other loans. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell sharply to 1.72% from 1.83%.

Bank of America shares shed 1.8%, and Citigroup fell 1.6%.

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Utilities and real estate companies held up the best as investors shifted money to the traditionally safer-play sectors.

Cleveland-Cliffs dived 10.7% after the iron-ore miner said it will pay $1.1 billion for steel maker AK Steel. AK Steel, meanwhile, rose 4.2%. U.S. steel producers have struggled since the Trump administration put a 25% steel tariff into place last year. Domestic demand has slumped as oil and gas drillers pull back on purchases of steel pipe. The price for hot rolled steel has slid almost 30% this year.

Lands’ End soared 21% after the clothing maker reported surprisingly good third-quarter earnings and raised its profit forecast for the year.

Benchmark crude oil rose 14 cents to $56.10 a barrel. Brent crude oil, the international standard, slipped 10 cents to $60.82 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline fell 1 cent to $1.56 a gallon. Heating oil fell 1 cent to $1.88 a gallon. Natural gas rose 11 cents to $2.44 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold rose $15.90 to $1,478.20 an ounce. Silver rose 29 cents to $17.13 an ounce. Copper fell 2 cents to $2.61 a pound.

Asian and European markets closed lower.


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