Wall Street edges higher on Amazon, Walmart gains; trade talks in focus

(Reuters) – U.S. stocks inched higher on Tuesday, led by Amazon and upbeat earnings from Walmart, while investors focused on the latest round of trade talks between the United States and China.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., February 19, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Hopes that the two countries will hammer out a deal to end their protracted trade war have sparked a rally in stocks this year, keeping the main stock indexes at over two-month highs.

Shares of Inc gained 1.4 percent, providing the biggest boost to the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq.

Walmart jumped 3.9 percent after the world’s largest retailer reported an estimate-beating jump in holiday quarter comparable sales, helped by consumer spending in key categories like groceries and increased e-commerce purchases.

The company’s results helped lift the mood in the sector, especially after a Commerce Department report showed last week that U.S. retail sales recorded their biggest drop in more than nine years for December, stoking fears of an economic slowdown.

Target Corp rose 1.7 percent and Costco Wholesale Corp 1.2 percent.

“We got really good earnings from Walmart, which was a surprise to investors after the weak retail sales numbers last week,” said Ryan Nauman, market strategist at Informa Financial Intelligence in Zephyr Cove, Nevada.

“But investors still seem to be sitting on their hands until we have more information on the trade front.”

The talks in Washington follow a round of negotiations that ended in Beijing last week without a deal but which officials said had generated progress on contentious issues between the world’s two largest economies. Higher-level talks will start on Thursday.

Trade-exposed industrial sector was little changed, with bellwether Boeing Co down 0.4 percent.

The consumer staples sector rose 0.76 percent, the most among the 11 major S&P sectors, helped by Walmart.

JPMorgan Chase & Co fell 1 percent and Goldman Sachs Group Inc dropped 0.6 percent, capping gains on the financial index, which was flat.

After the Federal Reserve announced its wait-and-see approach on interest rates this year, investors will look for more clues on monetary policy when the central bank releases the minutes from its January meeting on Wednesday.

At 12:42 p.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 29.63 points, or 0.11 percent, at 25,912.88, the S&P 500 was up 6.18 points, or 0.22 percent, at 2,781.78 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 23.57 points, or 0.32 percent, at 7,495.98.

Mattel Inc shares dropped 2.8 percent, after the company issued a disappointing 2019 sales forecast and said demand for its iconic Barbie doll was slowing.

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Freeport-McMoRan jumped 7.7 percent, the most on the S&P, after Citi Research upgraded the shares of the copper miner, seeing an upside potential for the red metal and added that weakness in China seemed to be turning.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 2.20-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and by a 1.68-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 35 new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 83 new highs and 18 new lows.

Reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal and Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva

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