By Medha Singh
(Reuters) - U.S. stocks edged lower in volatile trading on Thursday, as a rally sparked by progress in U.S.-China trade talks faded, with investors preferring defensive sectors such as real estate and utilities.
Wall Street opened higher after a Chinese commerce ministry spokesman said Washington and Beijing were in close contact over trade, and any U.S. trade delegation would be welcome, adding to the optimism over trade progress between the two economic giants.
Trading, however, has been increasingly choppy and the major stock indexes' strong opening gains have petered out toward the end of the session in the past two days.
"Utilities and consumer staples are two key defensive sectors where people go when they are trying to hide from volatility," said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab (NYSE:SCHW) in Austin, Texas.
The markets have also been pressured by a slew of headlines ranging from a potential U.S. government shutdown, interest rates to uncertainty around Brexit.
Concerns over slowing global growth next year have also rattled investors.
"There is a narrative growing that there might be a recession in 2020," said Crit Thomas, global market strategist at Touchstone Investments in Cincinnati.
"So it's hard for the market to really get excited when you have that sort of a narrative hanging out there."
Fueling the fears, a Reuters poll showed the U.S. Treasury yield curve will invert next year, possibly within the next six months, much earlier than forecast just three months ago, with a recession to follow as soon as a year after that.
At 1:03 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) was down 12.09 points, or 0.05 percent, at 24,515.18. The S&P 500 (SPX) was down 7.57 points, or 0.29 percent, at 2,643.50 and the Nasdaq Composite (IXIC) was down 45.07 points, or 0.63 percent, at 7,053.24.
Retail stocks dropped, with Under Armour (N:UAA) sliding 4.92 percent after the sportswear maker forecast 2019 revenue growth and profit below Wall Street estimates. The S&P retail index <.SPXRT> fell about 0.97 percent, snapping a three-day rally.
General Electric Co (N:GE) jumped 7.75 percent after longtime bear JP Morgan upgraded the industrial conglomerate's shares to "neutral".
Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 1.62-to-1 ratio on the NYSE. Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 2.62-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.
The S&P index recorded 10 new 52-week highs and 29 new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 13 new highs and 221 new lows.
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