By Stephen Culp
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The S&P 500 and the Dow edged lower on Thursday as lingering anxieties about slowing global growth and unresolved trade disputes kept buyers at bay, but chipmakers rallied to push the Nasdaq into the black.
While fourth-quarter earnings continued to be generally upbeat, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' comments that the United States and China were "miles and miles" from reaching a trade agreement curbed investor enthusiasm.
Chipmakers led the Nasdaq's rise, as Xilinx Inc (NASDAQ:XLNX) and Lam Research Corp (NASDAQ:LRCX) reported quarterly results that beat analyst expectations. Texas Instruments (NASDAQ:TXN) Inc, while posting better-than-expected profit, disappointed on revenue.
The Philadelphia SE Semiconductor Index, under pressure in recent months after Apple Inc (NASDAQ:AAPL) warned of waning smartphone demand, was on track for its biggest one-day percentage gain since Dec. 26, advancing 5.5 percent.
Still, even in the face of upbeat corporate results, fears surrounding tariffs and the longest federal government shutdown in history weighed on investors.
"It's a tale of two cities. It's still a lot of uncertainty on the tariff front and the government shutdown front and yet some pretty good earnings coming out of corporate America," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment strategist at Inverness Counsel in New York.
"There's a lot of money on the sidelines. Everybody's fearful of a negative tweet," Ghriskey added. "(The market is) very tenuous and very subject to day-to-day events.
Commercial air carriers American Airlines Group Inc , Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) Co and JetBlue Airways Corp all reported quarterly earnings that surpassed consensus estimates amid growing pressures related to the government shutdown.
The S&P 500 Airlines index gained 2.8 percent.
Union Pacific Corp (NYSE:UNP) also reported earnings that surprised to the upside. The railroad operator, along with airlines and other companies, is a constituent of the closely watched Dow Jones Transportation index, which was up 0.7 percent.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 81.35 points, or 0.33 percent, to 24,494.27, the S&P 500 lost 3.91 points, or 0.15 percent, to 2,634.79 and the Nasdaq Composite added 27.79 points, or 0.4 percent, to 7,053.56.
Of the 11 major sectors of the S&P 500 six were in the red, with the biggest percentage declines in consumer staples, healthcare and materials
Fourth-quarter reporting season is in full-swing. With nearly one-fifth of S&P 500 companies having reported, 75.3 percent have surpassed Street estimates. Analysts now see S&P profit growth of 14.2 percent for the quarter.
Shares of Textron Inc (NYSE:TXT) jumped 6.3 percent after beating analyst profit estimates and forecast better-than-expected 2019 profit.
Mining company Freeport-McMoRan Inc slid 10.9 percent after missing fourth-quarter profit expectations due to falling copper prices.
Intel Corp (NASDAQ:INTC) and Alaska Air Group Inc are expected to report after the markets close.
On the economic front, Americans applying for unemployment insurance fell to more than a 49-year low last week. So far, the government shutdown appears to have had a limited effect on initial jobless claims data.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.69-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.31-to-1 ratio favored advancers.
The S&P 500 posted six new 52-week highs and one new low; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 20 new highs and 33 new lows.
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