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* Pence delays China speech amid “positive signs” on talks
* Energy sector gains as crude prices rise
* Indexes: Dow +0.10%, S&P 500 -0.06%, Nasdaq -0.24% (Updates to afternoon)
By Noel Randewich
June 21 (Reuters) - Wall Street was little changed on Friday, as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s decision to defer a speech on China policy increased optimism on upcoming trade talks between Washington and Beijing, though tensions between the United States and Iran undercut sentiment.
The S&P 500 briefly hit a record high.
Pence called off a planned China speech that had been cast initially as a sequel to a blistering broadside he delivered in October, a move aimed at averting increasing tensions with Beijing, a White House official said.
The benchmark S&P 500 index hit an intraday record high of 2,964.15, but then stepped back as the rising tensions between the United States and Iran kept investors on edge.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to restart trade talks at the Group of 20 summit in Japan next week, on June 28-29.
“People will be focusing on what happens at the G20 with Presidents Trump and Xi,” said Kurt Brunner, portfolio manager with the Swarthmore Group in Philadelphia. Any indication of progress from Trump following the meeting would be positive for Wall Street, he said.
Stocks were set to log a third straight week of gains, after posting their worst monthly performance this year in May on fears the prolonged trade war would hit global economic growth.
Trump said on Friday he aborted a military strike on Iran in response to Teheran’s downing of a U.S. drone, but the possibility of a U.S. retaliation pushed crude prices higher and helped lift the energy sector by 0.49%.
Traders also pointed to higher volatility on Friday on account of “quadruple witching,” when investors unwind interests in futures and options contracts prior to expiration.
At 2:19 pm ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.1% at 26,780.05 points, while the S&P 500 lost 0.06% to 2,952.46. The Nasdaq Composite dropped 0.24% to 8,031.71.
The tech-heavy Nasdaq was weighed down by a 2.3% fall in PayPal Holdings Inc after the digital payments company said its chief operating officer, Bill Ready, would step down.
CarMax Inc rose as much as 3.4% to a record high after the used-vehicles retailer posted quarterly results above analysts’ expectations.
Carnival Corp fell for a second day, down 4.3%, and among the biggest decliners. Several brokerages trimmed their share price targets after the cruise operator cut its 2019 profit forecast.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.51-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.95-to-1 ratio favored decliners.
The S&P 500 posted 34 new 52-week highs and two new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 45 new highs and 54 new lows. (Reporting by Noel Randewich in San Francisco Additional reporting by Amy Caren Daniel and Shreyashi Sanyal in Bengaluru Editing by Leslie Adler)