Markets rallied out of the gate on Tuesday on hopes that the US-China trade discussions may find traction toward solving their differences. But they quickly went off track.
The Dow Jones industrial average bounced up 355 points in initial trades after a wild Monday, then started slipping as the volatility of the past weeks shook markets again.
At lunchtime, in a tempestuous live broadcast, US President Donald Trump told Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer that he would shut down the government if he does not get $5 billion in funding to pay for partial construction of a wall along the southern US border. In the course of the meeting, stocks swung into the red. The Dow sank more than 150 points in minutes.
"The market was looking good until Trump took a detour into crazy town during his meeting with Pelosi and Schumer," said Ivan Feinseth, chief investment officer at Tigress Financial Partners.
Traders were also closely watching for any developments on the trade dispute between the United States and China. It appeared that China had conceded to lower tariffs to 15 per cent, down from 40 per cent, on automobiles produced in America.
Early Tuesday, Trump touted the China negotiations in a tweet, which added to the optimism: "Very productive conversations going on with China! Watch for some important announcements!"
Then just before the televised Oval Office meeting, news broke that the United States plans to condemn China over hacking and economic espionage, and that stalled any momentum in the market.
"Things were looking good with Trump's favourable announcement on trade," Feinseth said. "But when you are trying to work with China and then want to sanction them for hacking and espionage, how do you move forward? We started with talks on reducing auto tariffs and a potential trade deal, and somehow we made a detour into sanctions and espionage."
The Dow and S&P were having their best day of the month, and the Dow rallied enough early thread back into positive territory for 2018. By the end of trading, the Dow was down 53 points, or 0.2 per cent. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index was level, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite caught a 0.1 per cent gain.
"The US-China trade and tariff news rollercoaster is the biggest driver of market sentiment this week," said Luke Tilley, chief economist at Wilimington Trust. "Any news that tensions are ratcheting up would, in our view, weigh on market performance."
Oil was having a good day after dropping 30 per cent over the past two months. West Texas Intermediate was 0.5 per cent higher at around $52 per barrel and Brent crude was up more than 1.5 per cent at $6.
The drop in oil prices helped keep business prices in check in November. The Labor Department on Tuesday said its producer-price index, which measures businesses prices for their goods and services, increased only 0.1 per cent above October's 0.6 per cent tilt. Prices were much higher when food and energy were includes.
"Oil prices are higher this morning on renewed tumult in Libya, which has knocked about 400,000 barrels per day offline," said oil analyst John Kilduff of Again Capital. "The Russian oil minister made some bullish comments as well, saying that Russia and OPEC may meet again, soon, to analyze the market. Market sentiment got a bit too negative, so we are due for at least a brief rebound."
The current round of trade negotiations began with a three-way phone call this week between US Trade Representati9ve Robert Lighthizer, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The phone call reinforced the view that the negotiations will proceed despite the arrest last week of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of China's Huawei Technologies. Meng was detained December 1 in Vancouver. The United States wants to extradite Meng on charges of violating US sanctions on Iran.
China has demanded Meng's release and summoned US Ambassador Terry Branstad to Beijing to register its unhappiness with the arrest. The Chinese government also has threatened "further actions" on the matter, according to a posting on a Chinese government website.
Some analysts say the current volatility is a warning of things to come.
"The stock market is telling you the outlook for the economy is more concerning than the benign environment that we've been in," said Chris Brightman of Research Affiliates. "We are flirting with an inverted yield curve as a result of the Fed tightening. And we have a nasty global geopolitical environment. Nothing more concerning than the trade war between the US and China."
And others think a Christmas rally is in the offing.
"You actually made the lows yesterday," said Jeffrey Saut, investment strategist at Raymond James. "It freaked everybody out. It undercut the October 29 low and looked like a key reversal on the upside. That tells me we are going to get the Santa Claus rally. Typically, the rally runs from few days before Christmas to Jan. 2."