US stocks end at cusp of records on trade talks optimism

John BIERS
US President Donald Trump said he is 'not thrilled' with the Federal Reserve's rate hikes

Wall Street stocks stood on the cusp of fresh records after Tuesday's session, spurred by hopes the US is working towards defusing the spiraling trade confrontations.

The S&P 500 hit an intraday record before retreating somewhat and finishing with modest gains. The index was also poised to break the record on Wednesday for the longest-ever "bull" market, a testament to a period of mostly slow but steady US economic growth since the 2008 financial crisis.

But the intraday record came before a series of bruising news developments involving the White House involving a guilty plea of President Donald Trump's former attorney and a conviction of his former campaign manager on criminal charges.

FTN Financial's Chris Low predicted stocks would be pressured Wednesday following the double whammy of political news. But he noted that markets were likely due for a pullback following recent gains.

"Probably you'll see some selling," Low said. "We're sort of ripe for a correction anyway."

Analysts cited the more moderate rhetoric of late from the Trump administration as the catalyst for the latest surge, with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross signaling he plans to hold off on a final decision on whether to impose tariffs on auto imports.

In addition, US and Chinese officials this week will hold the first talks since June on the ongoing dispute that has led to the exchange of tariffs on tens of billions of dollars in goods, with more possible.

"I am optimistic that the two sides will reach an agreement because there is so much at stake," said Alan Skrainka, chief investment officer at Cornerstone Wealth Management. "Markets are anticipating what can go right."

The S&P 500 got as high as 2,873.23 just after midday, a new trading record, before slipping back to finish at 2,862.96, about 10 points shy of the all-time high set in January.

Some analysts said the S&P 500's pullback from the record followed was normal for stocks, which sometimes require multiple attempts before new benchmarks are set.

But Briefing.com noted the drop also coincided with news Trump's former longtime personal lawyer had struck a plea with prosecutors to plead guilty to criminal charges.

And after the closing bell, a federal jury in the state of Virginia found former Trump campaign director Paul Manafort guilty of several charges, including tax fraud.

- Longest 'bull market' -

Wall Street on Wednesday is set to reach a new landmark on the longevity of the rising market that started in 2009 just after the global financial crisis.

The marathon run started amid a period of extremely low interest rates and is the longest stretch since World War II. The Federal Reserve has pulled back from that program, but the gains were extended by US tax cuts signed into law by Trump last December that have spurred earnings growth.

The S&P 500 will mark 3,453 straight days without suffering a drop of 20 percent. That makes it the longest "bull market," according to leading Wall Street statisticians.

- Key figures around 2100 GMT -

New York - Dow Jones: UP 0.3 percent at 25,822.29 (close)

New York - S&P 500: UP 0.2 percent at 2,862.96 (close)

New York - Nasdaq: UP 0.5 percent at 7,859.17 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.3 percent at 7,565.70 (close)

Frankfurt - DAX 30: UP 0.4 percent at 12,384.49 (close)

Paris - CAC 40: UP 0.5 percent at 5,408.60 (close)

EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.5 percent at 3,411.66 (close)

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.1 percent at 22,219.73 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.6 percent at 27,752.79 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: UP 1.3 percent at 2,733.83 (close)

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1569 from $1.1482 at 2100 GMT

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2895 from $1.2798

Dollar/yen: UP at 110.27 yen from 110.07 yen

Oil - Brent Crude: UP 42 cents at $72.63 per barrel

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: UP 92 cents at $67.35 per barrel

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