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Stocks close lower on new worries over China trade deal

CNBC logo CNBC 11/20/2019 Fred Imbert
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Stocks ended lower Wednesday, pulling back from record highs after Reuters reported a so-called phase one trade deal between China and the U.S. might not be completed by the end of 2019.

The Dow closed down 112 points, while the S&P 500 lost nearly 0.4% and the Nasdaq shed 0.5%.

“It looks like some of the storylines that have been intertwined with the market have started to put up more of a headwind for stocks,” said Daniel Deming, a managing director at KKM Financial. “The market is having more trouble navigating this landscape and it’s primarily due to the fact that the trade situation has stalled.”

Apple shares dropped to close 1.2% lower along with Caterpillar. The VanEck Vector Semiconductor ETF (SMH) was down 1%. Broadcom pulled back 1.9% while Analog Devices and Qualcomm both closed more than 2% lower.

Reuters reported, citing trade experts and people close to the Trump administration, the completion of a partial trade deal could be pushed into 2020 as China seeks more extensive tariff rollbacks. That report came after The Wall Street Journal said, citing former Trump administration officials, that the ongoing trade talks could hit an impasse. Uncertainty around trade also grew after the Senate passed a bill supporting Hong Kong protesters. This led China to accuse the U.S. of interfering in domestic affairs.

President Donald Trump also said Tuesday he will impose higher tariffs on Chinese goods if Beijing does not make a deal on trade. “If we don’t make a deal with China, I’ll just raise the tariffs even higher,” Trump said at a Cabinet meeting.

The major averages posted intraday records Tuesday. Stocks have been on a tear since Trump announced Oct. 11 that both sides had reached a partial trade deal to be signed sometime this month. Over the past month, the Dow and S&P 500 are up about 4% each, while the Nasdaq has rallied more than 5%.

“This is a digestion period after the fantastic run that we’ve had since the start of this quarter, but I also think we’re in a holding pattern with people waiting to see what the outcome is on these trade negotiations,” said Larry Adam, the CIO at Raymond James.

Traders also kept an eye on the impeachment proceedings in Washington as the uncertainty around them could hinder Trump’s negotiating position with China.

“Even though the impeachment hearings haven’t disrupted the market to this point, the fact that it’s continuing to bubble under the surface is now having an impact on the trade situation,” said Deming of KKM Financial. “With this thing adding to the uncertainty surrounding Trump and the administration, it wouldn’t surprise me to see China take a step back and say ‘we’re going to see how this plays out before we make any potential trade deal.’”

In corporate news, Target shares jumped more than 14%, their biggest one-day gain since Aug. 21, after the retailer posted quarterly results that easily beat expectations. Target also raised its full-year profit outlook. Lowe’s advanced 3.9% on stronger-than-forecast earnings and an improved profit forecast for fiscal 2019.

Elsewhere, investors assessed the minutes from the Federal Reserve’s meeting in October. The minutes showed Fed officials see little need to cut rates any further. The U.S. central bank decided to lower the federal funds rate by 25 basis points to a range of 1.5% to 1.75% late last month.

CNBC’s Silvia Amaro contributed to this report.

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