Santa walks the floor of the New York Stock Exchange before joining Marine Toys for Tots opening bell ceremonies, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. Stocks are opening slightly higher on Wall Street led by technology companies and banks. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Stocks waver in afternoon trading ahead of key jobs report

December 05, 2019 - 3:13 pm
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Major U.S. stock indexes veered between small gains and losses in afternoon trading Thursday, with gains in technology companies and banks offsetting declines elsewhere.

The sideways trading came as investors looked ahead to a key government report on jobs Friday and kept an eye on developments in the negotiations to end the trade war between the U.S. and China.

The market got December off to an uneven start this week amid mixed signals on trade. Stocks fell early in the week after President Donald Trump said he wouldn’t mind waiting for a trade deal beyond the 2020 elections. The indexes rebounded Wednesday on a report that Washington and Beijing could be on track for a trade deal before new tariffs are set to hit some popular products, including smartphones, on Dec. 15.

Existing tariffs have been a key sticking point in negotiations and China has been calling for the U.S. to roll back some of them as part of the latest push for a deal.

Meanwhile, investors are also looking for more clarity on the health of the economy from the Labor Department’s November tally of hiring by nonfarm employers.

“You’ve had some mixed economic data this week, so the market probably wants to wait and see what we get tomorrow morning,” said Willie Delwiche, investment strategist at Baird.

Technology stocks were among the biggest gainers. Apple rose 1.2%. The sector has much to gain, or lose, in trade negotiations because many of the companies rely heavily on China for sales and supplies.

Rising bond yields helped steady banks. The sector relies on higher bond yields to charge more lucrative interest on loans. The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 1.80% from 1.78% late Wednesday.

Makers and sellers of household goods took some of the heaviest losses. Molson Coors Brewing slid 1.9% and supermarket operator Kroger fell 2.8%.

Health care stocks also lost ground. The House plans to hold a vote next week for a bill that would allow Medicare to negotiate prices over costly prescriptions drugs. Alexion Pharmaceuticals slumped 7.5%.

Retailers also declined. L Brands fell 3.5%.

KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 index was up 0.1% as of 3:12 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 20 points, or 0.1%, to 27,669. The Nasdaq and Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks were flat.

Major stock indexes in Europe were mostly lower.

ECONOMY WATCH: Wall Street has been assessing disappointing economic data this week in the lead-up to a highly anticipated jobs report. Economists expect the unemployment rate to hold steady at 3.6%.

Data released on Wednesday showed that the U.S. services sector, which makes up the bulk of the economy, grew at a surprisingly slow pace. That does not bode well as a gauge for the economy while the manufacturing sector continues shrinking.

Payroll processer ADP, on Wednesday, reported that private employers added far fewer jobs in November than economists expected. Job growth has been a strong part of the economy and the report raises doubts ahead of the Labor Department’s more comprehensive update on Friday.

COCKPIT SHUFFLE: United Airlines slipped 0.5% after it said CEO Oscar Munoz is stepping down from his post and will become executive chairman. The airline said that President J. Scott Kirby will be its new CEO.

Munoz led the company through a choppy period, and in 2017 gave up his bonus after the forcible removal of a ticketed passenger led to widespread criticism.

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AP Business Writer Damian J. Troise contributed.

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