Wall Street stocks flat as ‘difficult’ Trump-Xi talks loom

US stocks were flat on Monday, with investors awaiting the earnings season to justify high valuations, and, more immediately, the implications of President Donald Trump's "very difficult" meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Trump said in a tweet last Thursday that the meeting over the coming Thursday and Friday would be "a very difficult one" as the United States could not risk massive trade deficits and job losses.

"The market was a little taken aback by Trump's comments recently about the meeting," said Andre Bakhos, managing director at Janlyn Capital in Bernardsville, New Jersey.

"The market will be anxious and will be eager to glean whatever they get from those talks."

While investors have cheered Trump's promises for fiscal stimulus and tax cuts, they worry his protectionist stance on trade could affect U.S. companies.

At 10.00 am ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 13.58 points, or 0.07 percent, at 20,676.8, the S&P 500 was up 1.31 points, or 0.05 percent, at 2,364.03.

The Nasdaq Composite fared better and was up 7.45 points, or 0.13 percent, at 5,919.19. The index eased back after hitting a record high of 5,928.93, with the biggest boost coming from Google parent Alphabet's 0.7 percent gain.

"Either this is a rest before we move higher or it is the beginning of a top for a little while, and I think earnings will be the arbiter of that decision," Bakhos said.

Five of the 11 major S&P 500 sectors were little changed. Utilities and telecom services considered the defensive plays of the broader index, were slightly lower.

Wall Street's major indexes are near record highs after a strong rally in the first quarter. The S&P 500 is trading at about 18 times earnings estimates for the next 12 months, above its long-term average of 15.

Investors are turning their attention to the impending earnings season to justify lofty valuations. Overall earnings at S&P 500 companies are estimated to have risen about 10 percent in the first quarter, according to Thomson Reuters.

Among stocks, Tesla's shares were up 2.7 percent at $286.06 after the electric carmaker said on Sunday its vehicle deliveries increased 69 percent in the first quarter.

However, General Motors dropped 3.1 percent and Ford declined 2.3 percent, after the two automakers reported March sales. Accenture slipped 2.3 percent to $117 after Goldman Sachs downgraded the stock to "sell" from "neutral".

Declining issues outnumbered advancers on the NYSE by 1,490 to 1,203. On the Nasdaq, 1,425 issues fell and 1,105 advanced.

The S&P 500 index showed 16 52-week highs and three lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 62 highs and nine lows.

Reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D'Souza; Reuters

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