Stocks were boosted on Wednesday by a news report from Bloomberg that said the U.S. and China were edging closer to a trade deal, leading the major averages to snap a three-day slide.
"I am surprised, if I'm honest, that the market is reacting to these headlines," said Neil Dwane, global strategist at Allianz Global Investors. "It's like we've all become Pavlov's dog. Every time someone says 'trade deal,' we go up or we go down."
The Bloomberg report, which cited people familiar with the talks, said the two countries were moving closer to agreeing on the amount of tariffs that would be rolled back in a so-called phase-one trade deal. President Donald Trump also said Wednesday that trade talks with China were going well.
The Dow dropped 280 points on Tuesday and at one point was down as much as 457 points after Trump said it may be better to wait until after the election before making a deal with China. It was the third day of losses for stocks as traders worried a deal would not be hatched before the U.S. is due to impose fresh duties on Chinese goods on Dec. 15.
"The volatility in equities over the last 72 hours is very discordant with the amount of actual incremental news crossing the wires," said Adam Crisafulli, founder of Vital Knowledge, in a note. "Markets are reacting too violently on both the downside and upside to all these headlines."
Shares of chipmakers and Apple rose Wednesday. Apple was up 0.9%. The VanEck Vectors Semiconductor ETF (SMH) climbed 1.5%. Nvidia and Micron Technology traded higher by 0.9% and 2.4%, respectively. These stocks have been whipsawed by trade deal related headlines for the last two years.
However, Wednesday's gains were kept in check as France and the wider European Union have promised to retaliate against potential U.S. tariffs on French goods. The U.S. Trade Representative announced Monday a list of French goods that could see tariffs of up to 100%. The decision came after France introduced a digital services tax, which the U.S. argues treats American tech companies unfairly. Other European countries, including the U.K., have plans to impose digital taxes.
At the same time, the U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the Trump administration has not ruled out imposing tariffs on imported European autos, despite not announcing a decision in November on whether to put additional levies on cars in the region.
On the data front, private payrolls rose by just 67,000 last month, according to data from ADP and Moody's Analytics. That's well below an estimate of 150,000.
—CNBC's Michael Bloom and Slivia Amaro contributed to this report.