Dow rises after Trump's Mueller win, but gain capped as economic fears persist

'More bumps in the road' before US-China trade deal, former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warns
'More bumps in the road' before US-China trade deal, Jack Lew warns

The Dow Jones Industrial Average eked out a small gain on Monday after news that the special counsel found no collusion with Russia on the part of President Donald Trump. However, gains in the broader market were capped as worries over the global economy lingered.

The 30-stock Dow closed 14.51 points higher at 25,516.83 as Boeing outperformed. The declined 0.1 percent to 2,798.36, led lower by the financials and tech sectors. The index also closed below 2,800 for the first time since March 12. The Nasdaq Composite also pulled back 0.1 percent to 7,637.54.

Worries over the global economic outlook were stoked on Friday and lingered through Monday after the so-called yield curve inverted for the first time in more than a decade. The 3-month Treasury bill yield topped its 10-year counterpart on Friday, thus inverting the yield curve. Investors consider this to be a signal that a recession may be coming soon. Disappointing economic data released Friday out of Europe, coupled with a downgraded economic outlook from the Federal Reserve, added to those concerns.

The yield curve inverted again on Monday as the benchmark 10-year yield hit its lowest level since December 2017.

"Economies in Europe and China continue to deteriorate causing uneasiness that the problems overseas could affect the U. S. markets," Bruce Bittles, chief investment strategist at Baird, wrote in a note. "There are signs that our economy is not as robust as last year such as the decline in capital spending in the third and fourth quarters of last year."

Equities alternated between gains and losses for most of Monday as investors also digested comments from Attorney General William Barr. On Sunday, he said special counsel Robert Mueller's long-awaited investigation did not find enough evidence that Trump 's 2016 campaign colluded with Russia.

In a letter to top lawmakers, Barr wrote:

"The Special Counsel's investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election."

The White House also said the results are a "total and complete exoneration of the president of the United States."

Mueller's investigation had been a lingering concern for investors as it could have hindered Trump's efforts to further cut taxes and further ease regulations on corporations. The news removes a worry for Wall Street and can help the administration focus on more pressing issues for the market, such as striking a trade deal with China or even working with Democrats on an infrastructure plan.

"This cloud has now dissipated and this should allow markets to breathe a sigh of relief," said Jeff Kilburg, CEO of KKM Financial. "This could be a real positive for the market if it allows Trump to focus on getting the Chinese trade deal concluded."

The investigation nagged the Trump administration for nearly two years. It led to the indictment and arrest of several Trump's operatives, including ex-campaign manager Paul Manafort. Manafort was sentenced to 47 months in jail for fraud earlier this month.

Investors across the world worried the probe could also bring down Trump himself by potentially leading to his impeachment. Now, Wall Street can remove one block from the proverbial wall of worry and eye the ongoing U.S.-China trade talks.

China and the U.S. are expected to strike a deal sometime in April. Sentiment around the negotiations improved this year to help lift stocks to within striking distance of their record highs set last year. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Saturday that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer were headed to Beijing for further talks on Thursday. Trade worries plagued investors for most of last year as they worried a prolonged trade war between the world's largest economies could hinder corporate profits.

Caterpillar shares rose more than 1 percent on Monday. The stock is seen by investors as a bellwether for trade conditions.

The S&P 500 is up more than 30 percent since Trump was elected in 2016. One key catalyst for the move higher in that time is a massive corporate tax cut signed by Trump in late 2017.

"Trump will remain in the White House until the 2020 elections, which means that the Trump tax rates will remain in until at least 2021," said John Rutledge, chief investment officer at Safanad. "The positive effect on the market will be obscured, however, by the recent ugly economic news that made the Fed cave and inverted the yield curve. All in all, I think people will be buying defensive and income stocks."

Apple shares fell 1.2 percent as the tech giant held an event in which it announced services such as a new news app, a video streaming platform, its own credit card and a bundle of video games.

Boeing shares climbed 2.3 percent after the company said pilots from U.S. carriers were testing a software update for its 737 Max jet, its best-selling plane. Earlier this month, an Ethiopian Airlines flight operated with a 737 Max plane crashed. It was the second crash involving the plane in less than six months.

—CNBC's Tom Franck and Kate Rooney contributed to this report.

Subscribe to CNBC on YouTube.