The Dow traded flat on Tuesday, struggling to grind higher after joining the S&P 500 and Nasdaq in record territory one day earlier.
Investors digested more positive news on the trade war front, but today’s market paralysis suggests that investors believe the hype is fundamentally vacuous.
The US stock market’s three major indices ranged near record levels this morning.
After closing at a fresh high on Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average sought to extend its rally. But shortly after the open, the Dow had lost 13.27 points or 0.05% to nudge down to 28,053.2.
The S&P 500 and Nasdaq also secured new all-time highs on Nov. 25, and they clung to those levels on Tuesday. The S&P 500 dipped 2.05 points or 0.07% to 3,131.59. The Nasdaq declined 2.77 points or 0.03% to 8,629.72.
Though awash in China-dependant stocks, the Dow Jones ignored the latest indication that the US and China remain committed to prioritizing a “phase one” trade agreement .
Earlier this morning, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He spoke with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. According to China’s Ministry of Commerce, the phone call went well, and the two sides “reached consensus on how to solve related problems.”
“Both sides discussed resolving core issues of common concern, reached consensus on how to resolve related problems (and) agreed to stay in contact over remaining issues for a phase one agreement,” the Chinese-language statement said, according to CNBC’s translation.
Unfortunately, markets have seen this movie before, and with a trade deal mostly priced into the Dow and S&P 500 , investors may be angling for something a bit more concrete.
Wall Street is particularly concerned about the looming Dec. 15 tariff hikes, which are now less than three weeks away. President Donald Trump has talked a hawkish game, but will he follow through on his threat if that deadline arrives without a trade deal?
“Key is what happens if we do not get a deal by 15 December,” Khoon Goh, head of Asia research at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group in Singapore, told Bloomberg. “Will the U.S. agree to suspend the tariffs out of goodwill?”
Equally concerning are reports that even if a phase one deal arrives, it’s not likely to be followed by a “phase two” agreement that addresses the issues that sparked the trade war in the first place.
Trade talks may dominate the headlines, but Tuesday also brings a handful of US economic data releases.
With the manufacturing sector beginning to regain its footing, analysts may pay the most attention to the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index reading, which will help Wall Street measure Main Street’s temperature as the holiday shopping season arrives.
Last night, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell expressed optimism about the state of the economy , indicating that the central bank’s three interest rate cuts had helped the expansion successfully navigate a period of uncertainty.
“At this point in the long expansion, I see the glass as much more than half full,” he said. “With the right policies, we can fill it further, building on the gains so far and spreading the benefits more broadly to all Americans.”
Powell suggested that interest rates will likely remain at present levels for the foreseeable future, and traders largely agree. As of this morning, Fed funds futures imply no rate changes until at least July 2020, when the odds of a rate reduction tick up to 50.6%.