Dow slips as Wall Street weighs US-China trade talks

Stocks wobbled on Monday as investors weighed the possibility of the U.S. and China striking a deal to end the ongoing tariff war.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 53.22 points lower at 25,053.11, giving up an earlier gain of 90 points. The S&P 500 ended the day up less than 0.1 percent at 2,709.80 as gains in the industrials sector were capped by losses in health care and communications services. The Nasdaq Composite closed 0.1 percent higher at 7,307.90.

"The market is now waiting for information on the trade and geopolitical issues that still exist," said Brent Schutte, chief investment strategist for Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management. "With those coming so close in the next few months, I don't think the market is going to get too far out over its skis in either direction."

"We're almost at a waiting point trying to assess whether what is the likelihood of a trade deal," Schutte said.

Axios reported on Sunday, citing two administration officials, that President Donald Trump's advisors have informally discussed holding a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping next month at the Mar-a-Lago, Trump's private club in Florida. This meeting could take place as soon as mid-March, the report said. However, the officials cited in the story added that nothing has yet been set.

That report comes after Trump said last week that a meeting between him and Xi would not happen before an early March deadline. If a trade deal is not reached before the deadline, additional U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods will take effect. That deadline could be moved, however, a White House official told CNBC last week.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, December 28, 2018.
Jeenah Moon | Reuters
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, December 28, 2018.

U.S. and Chinese officials will continue trade talks this week with a focus on intellectual property. "The United States is a great producer of technology, and innovation, and know-how, and trade secrets. And we have to operate in an environment where those things are protected," U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said last week.

"[We] expect a trade deal between the US and China by the end of this month," wrote Ed Yardeni, president and chief investment strategist at Yardeni Research. "The Chinese need a deal badly to placate Trump's demands for fairer trade so that he won't impose another round of tariffs on US imports from China."

The trade negotiations come amid slowing economic data out of China. Spending growth in China's lunar new year fell to its lowest since 2005. Last month, the Chinese government revealed the country's economy grew at its slowest pace in 28 years.

There is also a growing focus on a potential second government shutdown, given that Democrats and Republicans remain at odds over border policy. Trump tweeted this weekend "I actually believe they (Democrats) want a shutdown."

Tesla shares gained more than 2.3 percent after an analyst at Canaccord Genuity upgraded them to buy from hold. The analyst also hiked his price target to $450 a share from $330, implying a 47 percent upside over the next 12 months.

Avis Budget Group jumped 7.4 percent after Goldman Sachs upgraded the car-rental company to buy from sell, noting an attractive valuation at current levels.

—CNBC's Silvia Amaro contributed to this report.