US Markets

Stocks dip as investors monitor US-China trade talks, Target rises on earnings

Jan Kniffen on who's winning and losing in the retail sector
Jan Kniffen on who's winning and losing in the retail sector

Stocks closed marginally lower on Tuesday as investors weighed ongoing trade negotiations between China and the U.S. along with strong earnings from Target.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell just 13.02 points to 25,806.63 as shares of Walgreens Boots Alliance dipped more than 2 percent. The  ended the day down 0.1 percent at 2,789.65 while the Nasdaq Composite closed just below breakeven at 7,576.36.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday he thought Washington and Beijing were "on the cusp" of reaching a deal that would end the trade skirmish.

"We're trying to get that rectified, get that fixed, make it fair and reciprocal and I think we're on the cusp of doing that and I hope all those tariffs will go away, all those barriers," Pompeo told KCCI television in Des Moines, where he was attending a farmers conference.

A trader makes a bubble with a chewing gum ahead of the closing bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on January 29, 2019 in New York City.
Johannes Eisele | AFP | Getty Images

Pompeo's comments come after sources told CNBC that U.S.-China trade negotiations are in the "final stages" and that a summit in Mar-a-Lago later this month could close the deal.

"It seems that progress is being made toward a trade agreement between the two countries," said Katie Nixon, CIO at Northern Trust Wealth Management, in a note. "A deal (even a deal to make a deal) should be good news and will lower the probability that the risk case of an escalation of tensions manifests. For companies, we have heard this issue raised on numerous earnings conference calls as a source of uncertainty and potentially leading to a more cautious outlook, so indications of any resolution will be welcomed."

U.S. investors have been closely watching negotiations on trade with China as they assess how a deal —or lack thereof — could impact corporate profits.

However, equities fell on Monday amid worries that a deal was fully priced into the market. The decline pushed the S&P 500 back below the key 2,800 level.

"The rally from the 12/26/18 low is among the strongest starts to the year since 1987. The past two months' straight-line move, however, has seen bearish sentiment fall to its lowest since January 2018, just as the S&P 500 finds resistance at 2,813," Julian Emanuel, chief equity and derivative strategist at BTIG, wrote in a note. "Monday's reaction to this overhead level suggests that stocks will likely spend time 'Reading Between the Lines' of resistance (2,813) and support (2,750 and 2,600) before heading to BTIG's year-end price target of 3,000."

On Tuesday, investors cheered stronger-than-expected quarterly results out of retailer Target, sending its shares up around 5 percent. The company posted earnings per share of $1.53 and revenue of $22.977 billion. Both numbers topped analyst estimates from Refinitiv.

Target's same-store sales, a key metric watched by Wall Street, rose 4.6 percent. The company also said its digital sales grew by more than 25 percent.

Kohl's shares also rose 7.3 percent on better-than-forecast quarterly earnings, which were boosted by strong sales during the holidays. Same-store sales at Kohl's climbed 1 percent in the previous quarter, well above a 0.3 percent estimate from Refinitiv.

Shares of Willis Towers Watson surged more than 5 percent after Aon confirmed it was in the "early stages" of considering an all-share combination with the company.

—CNBC's Silvia Amaro and Reuters contributed to this report.