US Markets

Stocks close little changed with the June rally on hold ahead of US-China trade talks

World Bank President David Malpass on global trade tensions

Stocks held steady on Monday as investors looked ahead to a key meeting between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at this week's G-20 summit.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed just 8.41 points higher at 26,727.54, while the slid 0.2% to 2,945.35. The Nasdaq Composite closed 0.3% lower at 8,005.70.

Trump and Xi are expected to discuss the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China at the summit, which is set to start Friday in Osaka, Japan. Investors are hopeful the two leaders will get closer to a deal that will end the conflict.

"What we probably see is them having talks to have talks about trade. Perhaps the market is OK with that, but our feeling is the rhetoric we're getting out of China — and Chinese media, in particular — has become much more hard-lined," said Mona Mahajan, U.S. investment strategist at AllianzGI. "There is real pushback from the Communist Party; they don't want the U.S. and President Trump to interfere in their political and ideological systems.

"It feels like the likelihood of them coming together for a deal is pretty de minimis at this point. But the idea that the whole thing doesn't collapse is, I guess, a positive for the market."

China and the U.S. have slapped tariffs on billions of dollars worth of their goods over the past year. Last month, the two countries hiked tariffs targeting some goods.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

"Financial markets welcomed the announcement that a full-blown standalone US-China 'bilateral' meeting would be held in the margins of the annual G20 Summit," said Christopher Granville, managing director of global political research at TS Lombard, in a note. "That was an understandable relief reaction."

"Judging by the more conciliatory tone from both Washington and Beijing last week, the likely optics of the Trump-Xi talks will resemble the previous G20 meeting in Buenos Aires last December," he said. "Back then, the leaders' friendly rapport supplied the impetus to launch a new series of negotiations, with an agreement to refrain from further tariff hikes or other punitive action for the following three months while the talks proceeded. "

Trade optimism helped spark a massive rally this month. The major indexes were up at least 7% each in June. Those gains have erased a massive sell-off from May, which was fueled by China and the U.S. hiking tariffs on each other's products. The S&P 500 hit a record on Friday, reaching a high of 2,964.15.

Equities have also been boosted by the prospects of easier monetary policy from the Federal Reserve. Last week, the Fed said it would "act as appropriate" to keep the current economic expansion going. This led traders to price in a 100% probability of rate cut next month.

"It's the Fed and nothing else matters," said Mike Mangieri, managing partner at Seven Points Capital. "It's like the pre-defined trade now. There's no worry. And if there is worry, the Fed will put a Band-Aid on it."

In corporate news, Caesars Entertainment shares surged 14.5% after the casino operator agreed to be bought out by Eldorado Resorts for more than $17 billion, including debt.

Meanwhile, Bristol-Myers Squibb shares fell more than 7% after the company announced its $74 billion merger with Celgene would be delayed until the end of 2019 or early next year.

Dow member United Technologies rose 1.1% after an analyst at Cowen upgraded the stock to outperform from market perform. Deere shares, meanwhile, climbed 1.6% after being upgraded to buy from neutral at UBS.

—CNBC's Silvia Amaro contributed to this report.