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The rose on Thursday, powered by bank shares, as investors await trade clues from an upcoming meeting between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The broad index climbed 0.4% to 2,924.92, snapping a four-day losing streak, as the financials sector gained nearly 1%. The Nasdaq Composite advanced 0.7% to 7,967.76. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lagged, slipping 10.24 points to 26,526.58 as Boeing shares weighed down the 30-stock index.
Citigroup shares led the big banks higher, climbing 1.4%. Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo all closed more than 1% higher. J.P. Morgan Chase rose 0.3%. Bank stocks rose ahead of the Federal Reserve's stress-test results release, which is scheduled for later on Thursday.
Trump and Xi are scheduled to meet at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan on Saturday. The two leaders are expected to discuss trade, with investors looking for clues on whether China and the U.S. can make progress towards ending their ongoing trade war.
China and the U.S. have been in a trade war for more than a year. The U.S. has imposed tariffs on more than $250 billion worth of Chinese goods. China has retaliated with tariffs on U.S. products. An agreement between Trump and Xi at the G-20 summit in Japan would avert the next round of tariffs on additional $300 billion worth of Chinese imports.
"We've consistently repeated that the rally in stocks to essentially new highs has been driven by hopes of Fed rate cuts and a U.S.-China trade truce. The Fed generally met expectations," said Tom Essaye, founder of The Sevens Report. "Now it's time for Trump and Xi to meet and determine the next steps in the trade conflict."
"The expectation of something somewhat positive is very much baked into stocks, and given both sides have been actively trying to downplay expectations, the risk into and out of this meeting is for mild dis-appointment," Essaye said.
Xi is expected to present Trump with the terms China expects the U.S. to meet before Beijing is willing to settle the contentious trade fight between the two nations.The news was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. CNBC later confirmed the report through sources.
The South China Morning Post, citing unnamed sources, reported overnight that officials from Washington and Beijing had tentatively agreed to resume talks aimed at resolving the dispute. The report could not be independently verified by CNBC.
Comments from Larry Kudlow, National Economic Council director, added to the uncertainty around trade. Kudlow told Fox News that no preconditions were set ahead of Trump's meeting with Xi. He also said the U.S. may move forward with additional tariffs. Kudlow's comments briefly hit stocks, but later recovered.
There may be uncertainty around the outcome of the Trump-Xi, but some traders are betting on stocks that could rally on positive news after the weekend. Christian Fromhertz, CEO of The Tribeca Trade Group, said options traders are buying up short-term call options on some Chinese internet companies, including online video platform IQIYI and e-commerce company JD.com.
"It seems like some people are taking shots at a few of the Chinese internet names and they're catching some momentum," Fromhertz said. "Traders might be thinking, 'hey, let's take a shot on something that's already been beaten up and could pop if something happens.'"
U.S.-listed shares of IQIYI surged more than 10% on Thursday. JD.com. closed 0.5% higher. The KraneShares CSI China Internet ETF (KWEB) jumped 2%.
In corporate news, Walgreens Boots Alliance climbed 4.1% after the pharmacy operator reported better-than-expected quarterly results. The company's numbers were driven by higher prescription drug sales, CEO Stefano Pessina said.
Boeing shares fell 2.9% amid increasing uncertainty about when 737 Max jets will be able to fly again.
On the data front, the Commerce Department said the U.S. economy grew at a solid rate of 3.1% in the first quarter. But some components like consumer spending and business investments grew at a slower pace than previously estimated.
—CNBC's Michael Bloom and Sam Meredith contributed to this report.