Wall Street turned modestly lower early Thursday with mixed results this week from some of the nation's biggest retailers and a meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping intended to lower tensions between the world's two largest economies.
Futures for the Dow Jones industrials and S&P 500 each lost 0.2% before the bell.
Walmart shares tumbled more than 7% despite better than expected quarterly sales and profits after the world's biggest retailer issued muted guidance for the year.
Macy's posted third-quarter sales and profit that topped Wall Street expectations and the department store also raised the top end of its full-year revenue and adjusted profit forecasts, sending shares up nearly 10% before the bell.
Retailers have had mixed results so far this quarter, with some companies beating Wall Street forecasts even with sales slowing as expected as consumers continue to be squeezed by inflation and elevated interest rates.
On Wednesday, Target helped lead the market with a 17.8% jump after it reported much stronger profit than analysts expected. Another big retailer, TJX, fell 3.3% after the parent company of T.J. Maxx and Marshalls gave a profit forecast for the upcoming holiday shopping season that fell short of analysts’ estimates.
Investors and analysts are dissecting the data, trying to get a better idea of how consumers are feeling as the holiday shopping season approaches.
A separate report on sales at U.S. retailers released Wednesday morning clouded the picture, with sales falling 0.1% in October from September. It was the first decline in seven months, but better than the 0.3% drop forecast by economists.
Stronger-than-expected sales at U.S. retailers is an indicator of a healthier economy, which is important given worries still exist about a possible recession. But they could also feed into upward pressure on inflation, which could get the Fed nervous about interest rates.
Investors have grown cautious over expectations that the Federal Reserve might be finished with interest rate hikes meant to curb inflation and over the assumption that it has succeeded in navigating a “soft landing” for the U.S. economy, analysts said.
“The concern is that markets are now overestimating the chances of full-on Fed accommodation,” Stephen Innes of SPI Asset Management said in a commentary.
Treasury yields continued to yo-yo, easing early Thursday and potentially giving markets some room to breathe. The yield on the 10-year Treasury ticked down to 4.5 from 4.53% late Wednesday. The yield on the 2-year also came down slightly, to 4.89% early Thursday from 4.91% late Wednesday.
Following their meeting Wednesday, any improvement in sentiment between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping appeared to fade after Biden, pressed by a reporter on whether he trusted Xi, said he believed in trusting but verifying and conceded that China’s leader is a dictator.
“He is a dictator in a sense,” Biden said. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning, said, “Such a remark is extremely wrong and is irresponsible political manipulation.”
Biden and Xi emerged from their first face-to-face meeting in a year vowing to stabilize the fraught relationship between the world’s two biggest economies.
In Europe at midday, Germany's DAX rose 0.4% while the CAC 40 in Paris slipped 0.4%. Britain's FTSE 100 declined 0.6%.
In Asian trading, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 1.4% to 17,832.82 and the Shanghai Composite index dropped 0.7% to 3,050.93. Tokyo's Nikkei 225 shed 0.3% to 33,424.41 and the Kospi in Seoul edged 0.1% higher, to 2,488.18.
In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 sank 0.7% to 7,058.40.
Japan reported that its exports rose a meager 1.6% in October, down from a 4.3% increase in September, while its trade deficit shrank 70% thanks to a 12.5% decline in imports as oil prices fell. The figures augur further weakness for Japan's export manufacturers after the economy contracted at a 2.1% annual rate in the July-September quarter.
Shares rose in India and Taiwan and were virtually unchanged in Bangkok.
In other trading, U.S. benchmark crude oil gave up 63 cents to $76.16 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It lost $1.60 to $76.66 on Wednesday.
Brent crude, the international standard, declined 60 cents to $80.58 per barrel.
The U.S. dollar fell to 151.28 Japanese yen from 151.38 yen. The euro inched down to $1.0846 from $1.0848.
On Wednesday, the S&P 500 rose 0.2% and the Dow industrials gained 0.5%. The Nasdaq composite edged up 0.1%.