Stocks closed along the flatline on Thursday as Wall Street looked ahead to the start of the earnings season.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average dipped 14.11 points to 26,143.05 as Apple slipped 0.8%. The S&P 500 posted a marginal gain to end the day at 2,888.32 while the Nasdaq Composite slipped 0.2% to 7,947.36. Thursday's session saw the lowest trading volume since Dec. 24.
J.P. Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo are among the companies set to kick off the latest earnings season on Friday, which Wall Street believes will be rough. FactSet estimates first-quarter earnings for the S&P 500 fell 4.2%, which would mark the worst earnings season since 2016.
"We expect Q1 results to be better-than-expected and growth to be positive in the quarter," said Lindsey Bell, investment strategist at CFRA Research, in a note. But "with the S&P 500 trading at a price-to-earnings (P/E) multiple of 17.5x, a premium to the historic average of 16.4x, investors will need earnings (driven by sales) to improve to keep the market moving higher near-term."
Stocks initially rose Thursday as investors cheered progress on U.S.-China trade talks. The Wall Street Journal reported that China agreed to open its cloud-computing sector to foreign companies in an attempt to sweeten a deal with the U.S.
"We are hopeful we can do this quickly, but we are not going to set an arbitrary deadline," Mnuchin added. "If we can complete this agreement, this will be the most significant changes to the economic relationship between the U.S. and China in really the last 40 years."