Wall Street languished as concern about US President Donald Trump's protectionist stance weighed on optimism about the outlook for the economy and corporate profits.

In 1.02pm trading in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average eked out a 0.01 per cent advance, while, in 12.47pm trading, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index inched 0.04 per cent higher. However, the Nasdaq Composite Index slipped 0.13 per cent.

"What you have is a tug-of-war between near-term positives in terms of economic data and earnings season juxtaposed against the confusion over what's important in the first 100 days of the new administration and when will we get to see things like tax reforms," Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Equity Capital Markets in New York, told Reuters.

The Dow was mixed as advances in shares of Merck and those of Cisco, which recently traded 2.9 per cent and 1.9 per cent higher respectively, offset slides in shares of UnitedHealth Group and those of Boeing, recently down 1.2 per cent and 1.1 per cent respectively.


The uncertainty created by Trump also weakened the greenback.

"On the one hand economic fundamentals imply the dollar should rise, but on the other hand there is political risk," Andrew Milligan, head of global strategy at Standard Life Investments in Edinburgh, told Bloomberg. "If the political risk premium rises too much, then it's contrary to what the fundamentals are actually saying."

Bucking the trend on Wall Street, Mead Johnson Nutrition Co shares soared after the UK's Reckitt Benckiser Group said it is in advanced negotiations to acquire the maker of baby food for about US$16.7 billion.

"Reckitt Benckiser had never even been considered as a potential acquirer," Andrew Wood, an analyst at Sanford C Bernstein, said in a note, Bloomberg reported. "Infant formula was considered too far away from its core business. Hence the news was very surprising to us."

Mead Johnson shares traded 22.2 per cent higher at US$84.93 as of 12.29pm in New York, after Reckitt Benckiser said it is in talks to acquire each Mead Johnson share for US$90 in cash.

"While a deal for Mead Johnson would be clearly EPS enhancing and indeed transformative, it is unclear that all shareholders will welcome the addition of a new product category where RB has limited prior experience," Liberum analysts said, according to Reuters.

In other deal news, Pfizer is exploring a sale of a group of treatments in cardiology, urology and primary care as the U.S. drugmaker looks for ways to raise cash and streamline its portfolio, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

The drugs generate sales of more than US$700 million and could fetch more than US$2b from a buyer, the people said, asking not to be identified because the deliberations are private, according to Bloomberg.

In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index finished the day with a 0.3 per cent decline from the previous close, amid disappointing earnings including from Deutsche Bank and Daimler. France's CAC 40 Index was steady, closing 0.01 per cent lower, while Germany's DAX Index fell 0.3 per cent.

The UK's FTSE 100 Index rose 0.5 per cent.