Stock Gains Are Checked as US-China Tensions Escalate Again

(Associated Press) Stocks are edging higher on Wall Street in midday trading Wednesday, adding to the market’s recent gains, as investors size up a mix of company earnings reports.

The S&P 500 was up 0.2% after wavering between gains and losses earlier. The index is coming off three straight gains. Gains in technology and health care stocks outweighed losses in energy companies, banks and elsewhere in the market. Treasury yields fell slightly, a sign of caution in the market.

Traders had their eye on a flareup in tensions between Washington and Beijing. The U.S. ordered China to close its consulate in Houston, saying it was necessary to protect American intellectual property. China said it would retaliate.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 45 points, or 0.2%, to 26,886. The Nasdaq was flat. The Russell 2000 index of small company stocks inched 0.2% higher. Indexes in Europe fell. Asia ended mixed.

Homebuilders marched broadly higher after the National Association of Realtors said sales of previously occupied U.S. homes climbed last month by a robust 20.7%. The gain is an encouraging sign for the housing market after the pandemic caused sales to plummet in the prior three months.

Despite the sharp monthly gain, purchases are still down 11.3% from a year ago, when homes had sold at an annual pace of 5.32 million. Builder NVR led the sector, surging 11.6%.

United Airlines slid 3% after reporting that its revenue plunged 87% as the coronavirus throttled air travel. Pfizer rose 4% after the U.S. government signed a contract with the company to deliver the first 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine it’s developing by December.

The Federal Reserve’s efforts to support markets and expectations that Washington eventually will deliver more financial aid to help Americans weather the economic downturn have been key in keeping markets mostly pushing higher since stocks plunged in March.

Still, worries remain that the rise of coronavirus counts across much of the country will derail efforts to reopen businesses shut down due to the pandemic.

Adding to unease Wednesday was a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control that the number of coronavirus cases in some states is much higher than has been reported. Experts have said all along that the toll from the COVID-19 pandemic is much higher than tallies of confirmed cases would indicate, due to issues with testing and data collection.

Uncertainty over prospects for more financial aid to Americans and U.S. businesses also is casting a shadow, analysts said. The Republican Party and Democrats remain divided over how much support is needed, as states grapple with rebounds in cases that have prompted some local governments to order some businesses to close to help snuff out flare ups of the virus.

Among big companies reporting results this week: Microsoft and Tesla issue results later Wednesday, Intel, AT&T and Twitter report on Thursday and Verizon Communications and American Express report earnings Friday.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 0.59% from 0.60%.

In the commodities markets, the price of benchmark U.S oil dropped 1% to $41.49 per barrel. Brent crude oil, the international standard, lost 1.2% to $43.77 per barrel.