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Monday August 20th, 2018 8:14PM

US stock indexes eke out small gains after early rally fades

By The Associated Press
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The major U.S. stock indexes eked out small gains Monday after a late-afternoon pullback weighed on small-company shares.

The market had been broadly higher earlier in the day on hopes that trade tensions were easing between the U.S. and China. But much of that rally faded, leaving decliners on the New York Stock Exchange outnumbering risers.

Gains by health care and energy stocks outweighed losses in real estate companies and other decliners. Casino operators and equipment companies got a boost from a Supreme Court decision that cleared the way for states to legalize sports betting.

The S&P 500 index added 2.41 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,730.13. The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 68.24 points, or 0.3 percent, to 24,899.41. The Nasdaq composite rose 8.43 points, or 0.1 percent, to 7,411.32.

Small-company stocks fell. The Russell 2000 index lost its early gains, sliding 6.45 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,600.34.

The major stock indexes' latest gains add to the market's solid run this month. The S&P 500, the benchmark for the broader stock market, had its best weekly gain since early March last week.

The indexes got off to a strong start Monday, as investors hoped for reduced trade tensions between the U.S. and China after President Donald Trump tweeted over the weekend that he would help Chinese telecommunications company ZTE get "back into business."

ZTE's Hong Kong-traded shares have been suspended since U.S. authorities banned it last month for seven years from importing U.S. components in a case involving illegal exports to North Korea and Iran. But Trump said too many jobs in China are at stake after the U.S. government sanctions cut off access to ZTE's American suppliers.

China's foreign ministry responded by saying it "highly commended" the move, ahead of trade talks in Washington this week.

Fears of retaliatory tariffs and other trade disruptions roiled the market earlier this spring before the latest raft of company earnings captured investors' focus. The president's tweet about ZTE may be a sign that U.S.-China trade negotiations are relatively constructive, if not friendly, said Brian Nick, chief investment strategist at Nuveen Asset Management.

"If you have concessions being made like that on one or both sides it probably means that the worst-case outcome is less likely, which would be a good thing for stocks," Nick said. "In general the market probably overreacted to the trade-related noise that started popping up around March 1. There was this sense that we might get this worst-case-scenario trade war and that seemed to be priced in relatively quickly, and we're starting to see it priced out of equity valuations now."

U.S. companies that would stand to benefit from an effort to rescue ZTE moved higher Monday. Acacia Communications jumped 8.7 percent to $34.25, while Oclaro gained 2.9 percent to $8.82.

Qualcomm and NXP Semiconductors also got a boost as investors banked that Chinese regulators will reverse their stance and approve Qualcomm's proposed $44 billion acquisition of NXP. China is the final major government withholding approval of the deal, but Bloomberg News reported that Chinese regulators are reviewing the deal again.

Qualcomm rose 2.7 percent to $56.74, while NXP surged 11.8 percent to $110.74.

Investors continued to bid up shares in health care companies. CVS Health gained 3.7 percent to $66.82.

Casino operators and equipment makers surged after the Supreme Court struck down a federal law that barred gambling on football, basketball and other sporting events in most states. The 6-3 decision gives states the go-ahead to legalize sports betting.

MGM Resorts rose 1.6 percent to $32.32. Penn National Gaming climbed 4.7 percent to $33.75, while Empire Resorts jumped 15.7 percent to $22.50. Scientific Gaming, which makes casino and interactive games as well as lottery games, vaulted 11.2 percent to $59.30.

Viacom tumbled 4.9 percent to $28.74 after CBS sued its controlling shareholder, seeking to block efforts to make the company combine with Viacom. CBS added 2.2 percent to $53.65.

Xerox slid 4.3 percent to $28.87 after the copier maker ended merger talks with Fujifilm and resolved a dispute with investors Carl Icahn and Darwin Deason.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose 26 cents to settle at $70.96 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained $1.11, or 1.4 percent, to $78.23 a barrel in London.

Rising oil prices helped lift energy stocks. Range Resources added 3.3 percent to $14.76.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 2.99 percent from 2.97 percent late Friday.

The dollar rose to 109.66 yen from 109.30 yen on Friday. The euro weakened to $1.1944 from $1.1945.

Gold fell $2.50 to $1,318.20 an ounce. Silver dropped 11 cents to $16.65 an ounce. Copper slipped 2 cents to $3.09 a pound.

In other energy futures trading, heating oil rose 3 cents to $2.25 a gallon. Wholesale gasoline added a penny to $2.20 a gallon. Natural gas gained 4 cents to $2.84 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Major stock indexes in Europe finished lower. Germany's DAX lost 0.2 percent, while France's CAC 40 dipped 0.02 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 slid 0.2 percent. In Asia, Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 closed 0.5 percent higher. South Korea's Kospi dipped 0.1 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng jumped 1.4 percent.

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