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VOL. 43 | NO. 3 | Friday, January 18, 2019

Stocks climb on report US may pare back tariffs on China

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NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks climbed Thursday after the Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. officials could reduce the new tariffs on Chinese imports as part of trade negotiations between the two countries. It was the latest in a series of potentially conflicting updates on the trade dispute.

Citing sources close to the discussions, the Journal said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other officials are willing to lift some or all of the import taxes the U.S. announced last year. They're aiming to convince Chinese leaders to make deeper reforms. However, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer reportedly doesn't support the idea, and the proposals haven't been presented to President Donald Trump.

Stocks wobbled earlier following reports late Wednesday that the U.S. might bring criminal charges against Chinese technology giant Huawei over allegations it stole trade secrets. However, China's government said the top trade envoys from both countries will meet in Washington at the end of this month, a possible sign of progress in negotiations

Technology, industrial and health care companies made some of the largest gains, and makers of chemicals and other basic materials jumped.

After three months of big swings that were linked to trade talk developments, investors have adjusted to the uncertainty, said Gina Martin Adams, the chief equity strategist for Bloomberg Intelligence. She said investors want hard data and clear answers about what international trade will look like.

"These issues between Huawei and trade have been a constant source of volatility and uncertainty that is weighing on sentiment," she said. "Any permanence on the issue is going to be deemed an improvement."

The S&P 500 index rose 19.86 points, or 0.8 percent, to 2,635.96. The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped as much as 267 points following the report about the potential tariff cuts. It finished with a gain of 162.94 points, or 0.7 percent, at 24,370.10. The Nasdaq composite added 49.77 points, or 0.7 percent, to 7,084.46. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks climbed 12.55 points, or 0.9 percent, to 1,467.25.

Among tech companies, chipmaker Nvidia gained 1.9 percent to $151.72 and Advanced Micro Devices rose 2.6 percent to $20.25. Hard drive makers struggled, however. Western Digital lost 3.6 percent to $36.47 and Seagate shed 2.5 percent to $38.73 as digital storage companies sank.

Industrial companies also stand to benefit from greater trade and faster economic growth. Defense contractors made strong gains after President Donald Trump called for a space-based missile defense system following a strategy review by the Pentagon.

Defense contractor Northrop Grumman gained 3.3 percent to $264.08 and Lockheed Martin rose 2.4 percent to $278.80. Aerospace company Boeing advanced 2 percent to $359.09.

Elsewhere Fastenal, which makes industrial and construction fasteners, jumped 5.9 percent to $57.34 after it said customers became a bit less cautious about spending in December.

Among health care companies, drugmaker AbbVie added 1.9 percent to $87.20 and medical device maker Becton Dickinson picked up 2.1 percent to $236.11 after it said it had a strong fiscal first quarter.

Like several other major financial companies, Morgan Stanley was hurt by difficulties in trading during the volatile fourth quarter. While its traders are considered some of the best in the business, their stock trading revenue was flat over the last three months of the year, a period where the S&P 500 dropped 14 percent, and its bond trading revenue tumbled 30 percent. Morgan Stanley fell 4.4 percent to $42.53.

Signet Jewelers plunged 24.7 percent to $25.13 after it said its holiday season had been difficult and slashed its annual forecasts. The company said competition grew tougher in December and sales of some key products were weak. The company also said fewer customers came to its stores last month.

Big luxury retailers including department stores like Macy's have said they struggled over the holidays even though consumer confidence is high and pay for workers is rising. The stock market's steep losses in December appear to have made some consumers reluctant to splurge.

All 11 S&P 500 sectors finished higher, but internet and communications companies, household goods makers and utilities lagged the rest of the market. Netflix rose 0.5 percent to $353.19, but after the close of trading its stock fell 3.2 percent after its fourth-quarter revenue and its first-quarter revenue forecast both came up short of analysts' expecations.

Bond prices edged lower. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.75 percent from 2.73 percent.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil fell 0.5 percent to $52.41 a barrel in New York, while Brent crude, the international standard, gave up 0.2 percent to $61.18 a barrel in London.

Wholesale gasoline rose 1 percent to $1.43 a gallon and natural gas added 0.9 percent to $3.41 per 1,000 cubic feet. Heating oil slid 0.5 percent to $1.88 a gallon.

Gold dipped 0.1 percent to $1,292.30 an ounce and silver lost 0.7 percent to $15.54 an ounce. Copper added 0.2 percent to $2.68 a pound.

The dollar rose to 109.23 yen from 108.92 yen. The euro slipped to $1.1390 from $1.1398. The British FTSE slipped 0.4 percent and the CAC 40 of France fell 0.3 percent. Germany's DAX dipped 0.1 percent.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 0.5 percent and Japan's Nikkei 225 index edged 0.2 percent lower. South Korea's Kospi added 0.1 percent.

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AP Markets Writer Marley Jay can be reached at http://twitter.com/MarleyJayAP

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