S&P 500 Ekes Out Record High Thursday

(AP) -- A day of listless trading on Wall Street ended Thursday with another record high for the S&P 500.

The benchmark index notched its third consecutive gain after spending most of the day wavering between small gains and losses. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq composite also budged little, capping the day with miniscule drops.

The market's lethargic turn came on a day with little market-moving news. Investors were still awaiting more details on the status of trade talks between the U.S. and China.

Published reports have suggested this week that negotiations between the world's two largest economies have hit some snags. Beijing is pressing Washington to roll back tariffs as part of a potential deal that the nations are trying to hammer out.

While the market has been sensitive to the swings in the trade talks, the latest speculation did not put most investors in a selling mood.

"We've had headlines like this before and the market is doing a little bit better job of looking through them," said Sameer Samana, senior global market strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute. "Until something is announced, yay or nay, it probably doesn't make much sense to trade on it, especially when President Trump himself has tweeted out that talks are going well."

The S&P 500 rose 2.59 points, or 0.1%, to 3,096.63. The Dow slipped 1.63 points, or less than 0.1%, to 27,781.96. The index had briefly been down around 100 points.

The Nasdaq fell 3.08 points, or less than 0.1%, to 8,479.02. The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks dropped 0.39 points, or less than 0.1%, to 1,588.79.

The broader market has been gaining ground for weeks on hopes that the U.S. and China can make progress in their latest push for a deal. Investors have also been encouraged by surprisingly good corporate earnings and data showing the economy is still growing solidly. And the Federal Reserve has helped, lowering interest rates three times this year. The central bank has signaled that it's done lowering rates, for now, unless the U.S. economy shows any major signs of trouble.

"We've been going up, and the path of least resistance is probably higher, but the question is what's going to take us there?" Samana said. "The Fed's on hold. Earnings are out of the way, so probably the next thing the market will look to is this trade issue that's still outstanding."

Investors hope that Washington and Beijing can come to some sort of an agreement to avert new and potentially more damaging tariffs that are scheduled to take effect in the middle of next month. Those new tariffs would hit some popular consumer products, such as electronic devices, as well as everyday goods. President Donald Trump has been dismissive about any change to tariffs while negotiations continue.

China did make a goodwill gesture of sorts Thursday when it moved to lift a four-year ban on U.S. poultry products. The move sent shares in processed food companies higher. Tyson Foods rose 1.7%, Sanderson Farms gained 3.7% and Pilgrim's Pride added 1.1%.

The U.S. is the world's second largest poultry exporter, with global exports of poultry meat and products of $4.3 billion last year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that more than $1 billion in poultry could be exported to China annually.

Consumer-focused stocks, including Target and Lowe's, were the best performers Thursday, offsetting declines in technology and energy companies.

Technology stocks were the biggest losers. Cisco Systems fell 7.3% after giving investors a surprisingly weak revenue forecast.

Banks also moved broadly lower. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 1.82% from 1.87% late Wednesday. Lower bond yields hurt banks' ability to charge more lucrative interest rates on mortgages and other loans.

Retailers and other companies that rely on consumer spending held up best. Lowe's rose 1.5% and Target added 2.3%. Walmart, which had been solidly higher earlier after reporting strong third-quarter results and raising its annual profit expectations, fell 0.3%.

Dillard's jumped 14.2% after the department store operator surprised Wall Street with a fiscal third-quarter profit and solid sales.

Industrial and communication services stocks also notched gains. Boeing rose 1.4% and Netflix climbed 2.3%.

Benchmark crude oil fell 35 cents to settle at $56.77 a barrel. Brent crude oil, the international standard, dropped 9 cents to close at $62.28 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline fell 2 cents to $1.62 per gallon. Heating oil climbed 1 cent to $1.92 per gallon. Natural gas rose 5 cents to $2.65 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold rose $10.10 to $1,471.80 per ounce, silver rose 11 cents to $17.01 per ounce and copper fell 2 cents to $2.62 per pound.

The dollar fell to 108.37 Japanese yen from 108.79 yen on Wednesday. The euro strengthened to $1.1022 from $1.1002.

European markets closed broadly lower.

(AG)