By Amy Caren Daniel
Feb 11 () - Wall Street struggled for direction on Monday, with investors taking a pause as the United States and China began their latest trade negotiations and U.S. lawmakers tried to reach a deal on border funding.
The market started on a strong note over the trade talks after China's upbeat tone, with sentiment lifted by White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway expressing confidence of a possible deal.
However, the indexes gave up their early gains after the healthcare sector fell 0.23 percent. The sector was dragged down by a more than 1 percent drop in the shares of UnitedHealth Group and Pfizer Inc and Merck & Co.
The latest U.S.-China talks come in the face of a looming March 1 deadline set for reaching a trade pact. If the two countries fail to reach an agreement by then, additional U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports will come into force.
"Markets are taking a wait-and-see approach today," said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab in Austin, Texas.
"Everyone would like to see a resolution on both trade and the government shutdown, but right now there aren't many new signs of progress in either."
In Washington, the top four Democratic and Republican negotiators on border security funding plan to meet in a bid to reach an elusive deal by a Friday deadline to avert another partial government shutdown.
At 10:55 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 26.67 points, or 0.11 percent, at 25,079.66. The S&P 500 was up 0.89 points, or 0.03 percent, at 2,708.77 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 13.74 points, or 0.19 percent, at 7,311.93.
The benchmark index is about 15 percent above its December lows, helped in part by a dovish Federal Reserve and largely upbeat earnings reports.
Of the S&P 500 companies that have reported fourth-quarter earnings, 71.2 percent topped estimates, according to IBES data from Refinitiv. But analysts' estimates for first-quarter earnings have turned negative for the first time since 2016.
Among other stocks, Apple Inc shares gave up early gains to trade 0.2 percent lower, after research firm IDC showed iPhone sales falling 20 percent in China during the fourth quarter of 2018.
Electronics Arts Inc gained 5.2 percent, the most among S&P 500 companies, after analysts were upbeat about a strong start to the videogame publisher's newly launched rival to "Fortnite".
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.58-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and by a 1.53-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.
The S&P index recorded 26 new 52-week highs and three new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 46 new highs and 12 new lows.