An index of world stock markets was little changed on Thursday after a four-day winning streak, as investors fretted over the lack of clear signs that a U.S.-China trade spat was resolved and over sluggish global economic growth. U.S. Treasury yields retreated, the U.S. dollar firmed, and oil prices edged lower, as various markets reversed recent moves. MSCI's all-country index was 0.03 per cent lower, retreating from a near four-week high hit on Wednesday.
China said three days of talks with the United States that wrapped up on Wednesday had established a "foundation" to resolve differences, but gave few details on key issues at stake, including a scheduled U.S. tariff increase on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports. The trade war between the two economic giants has disrupted the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars of goods. "Capital markets were probably too optimistic that some concessions would be announced at the end of three-day trade talks this week between the world's two largest economies," Dean Popplewell, vice president of market analysis at OANDA in Toronto, said in a note.
A slew of weak data - which showed Chinese factory-gate inflation was the slowest in more than two years and worse-than-expected industrial figures in France - further hurt risk appetite. On Wall Street, stocks were modestly lower, as Macy's Inc trimmed its holiday sales forecast, hurting retail stocks. The S&P 500 retail index was 0.9 per cent lower, and Macy's shares sank 18 per cent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 14.69 points, or 0.06 per cent, to 23,864.43, the S&P 500 lost 4.01 points, or 0.16 per cent, to 2,580.95 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 1.82 points, or 0.03 per cent, to 6,955.25. The pan-European STOXX 600 benchmark was up 0.18 per cent.
Investors will be looking for new clues on U.S. interest rate policy when Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell speaks before the Economic Club of Washington at about 12:45 p.m. ET. U.S. Treasury yields fell as stocks weakened on disappointment over the lack of specifics on resolving the U.S.-China trade dispute, while shorter-dated debt outperformed following Wednesday's dovish Federal Reserve meeting minutes.
Minutes from the Fed's December meeting released on Wednesday showed that a range of policymakers said they could be patient about future interest rate increases and a few did not support the central bank's rate increase that month. Benchmark 10-year notes gained 3/32 in price to yield 2.7206 per cent, down from 2.728 per cent late Wednesday. The yield curve between two-year and 10-year notes steepened to 16 basis points, from 13 basis points early on Wednesday.
The dollar rallied from three-month lows, with investors reducing bearish positions on the currency as they awaited resolution in U.S.-China trade negotiations, the U.S. government shutdown, and Britain's exit from the European Union. The dollar index, tracking it against a basket of six major currencies, rose 0.13 per cent to 95.347, after earlier dropping to a three-month trough. In commodity markets, oil prices fell, hurt by the indecisive U.S.-China trade talks and official data that again highlighted vast fuel stocks in the United States.
Brent crude was down 0.55 per cent, or 0.34 cents, to $61.1 per barrel. U.S. crude was at $51.95 per barrel, down 0.41 cents or 0.78 per cent. Both benchmarks rose by around 5 per cent the previous day. Gold steadied near a more than six-month peak on Thursday, with Spot gold little-changed at $1,289.83 per ounce.
(With inputs from agencies.)