US stocks wobble as trade hopes flicker and tech stocks slip

FILE- In this Sept. 6, 2018, file photo Joseph Lawler, right, works with fellow traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The U.S. stock market opens at 9:30 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, Sept. 12. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks wobbled between gains and losses then finished with a split decision Wednesday as technology companies dropped. That canceled out gains for energy companies.

Oil and gasoline prices continued to rise Wednesday after a big gain the day before, and U.S. crude reached its highest price in two months. Chipmakers fell, while Apple slipped after announcing new features for iPhones and Apple Watches.

The market staged a brief rally around midday following a report that the U.S. was seeking new trade talks with China. Stocks climbed, but they retreated to their earlier levels in less than an hour.

Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist for Invesco, said investors have learned from earlier trade updates that didn't amount to much.

"Every other time this has happened, it wasn't worth the positive market move," she said. "Investors ... are a lot more skeptical this time around, having been burned a few times with false optimism about positive trade developments."

The S&P 500 index edged up 1.03 points to 2,888.92. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 27.86 points, or 0.1 percent, to 25,998.92.

The losses for technology companies weighed on the Nasdaq composite, which slid 18.24 points, or 0.2 percent, to 7,954.23. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks lost 2.71 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,715.70.

Most of the stocks on the New York Stock Exchange finished higher.

Oil prices built on Tuesday's gains after the Energy Information Administration said U.S. crude stockpiles fell by more than 5 million barrels last week. The prospect of tighter supplies and higher prices also helped energy company stocks.

Benchmark U.S. oil climbed 1.6 percent to $70.37 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the standard for international oil prices, added 0.9 percent to $79.74 a barrel in London. Wholesale gasoline rose 1 percent to $2.03 a gallon. It jumped almost 3 percent the day before.

Goldman Sachs analyst Mark Delaney downgraded Micron Technology stock to "Neutral" and said he expects weaker market conditions for several types of computer chips.

Micron fell 4.3 percent to $41.74 and Nvidia slipped 1.7 percent to $268.20.

Apple unveiled new iPhones with larger screens on Wednesday, and also said new Apple Watches will have larger screens and new health-monitoring features.

Apple tends to trade lower on the days it announces new products, and it fell 1.2 percent to $221.07 Wednesday. It's up 31 percent in 2018, however.

As the Apple Watch updates were announced, shares of fitness tracker company Fitbit slumped 6.9 percent to $5.53 in heavy trading.

According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. officials recently proposed a new round of trade negotiations to give the Chinese government another chance to address U.S. concerns before the Trump administration imposes bigger tariffs on goods imported from China.

The two countries have already placed new taxes on $50 billion in imports, and the government is threatening higher tariffs on $200 billion in goods.

Many experts feel that China will make substantial concessions to resolve the trade impasse, and some are hoping for major progress over the next few months.

But Hooper of Invesco says she doesn't think China is about to give in. She said the Chinese government is preparing for a long dispute by ramping up spending, and notes that unlike U.S. politicians, Chinese President Xi Jinping doesn't have to worry about facing voters.

Cigarette makers jumped after the Food and Drug Administration said it is looking at steps to combat "an epidemic" of e-cigarette use by teenagers, and said companies need to address the problem or risk having their flavored products pulled off the market.

Altria Group surged 6.7 percent to $63.43, its largest gain in just under a decade. Philip Morris International rose 3.4 percent to $80.05 and overseas rivals like British American Tobacco and Imperial Brands also jumped.

The Labor Department said wholesale prices unexpectedly dipped in August, the first decline in a year and a half. That's a sign inflation pressures could be easing. The agency's producer prices index slipped 0.1 percent in August, although it's up 2.8 percent over the last year.

The department said transportation and warehousing service prices fell for the month.

The dollar weakened and interest rates dipped, which put pressure on bank stocks and also boosted commodities prices. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.96 percent from 2.98 percent.

The dollar fell to 111.22 yen from 111.59 yen. The euro rose to $1.1632 from $1.1586.

Gold rose 0.7 percent to $1,210.90 an ounce. Silver added 1 percent to $14.29 an ounce. Copper climbed 2.1 percent to $2.68 a pound.

Heating oil added 0.3 percent to $2.26 a gallon and natural gas remained at $2.83 per 1,000 cubic feet.

France's CAC 40 gained 0.9 percent while the British FTSE and the DAX in Germany both rose 0.5 percent.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 lost 0.3 percent, and the Kospi in South Korea was almost flat. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 0.3 percent, its ninth loss in 10 days.

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AP Markets Writer Marley Jay can be reached at http://twitter.com/MarleyJayAP His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/marley%20jay

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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