U.S. stocks were little changed on Tuesday, trading in a tight range, as investors stayed on the sidelines ahead of the first-quarter earnings season and fretted over the ability of President Donald Trump to deliver on his policy plans.
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Investors were also focused on a potentially tense meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping set for the end of the week. Retail stocks swooned after Ralph Lauren <RL.N> said it was shutting its flagship Fifth Avenue store in New York and cutting jobs.
"We're seeing the market process. Investors are trying to decide are things going to get better or get worse," said Kim Forrest, senior equity research analyst, Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh. "We're sitting on the sidelines waiting for earnings to begin in earnest next week."
The market moved off session lows earlier in the day after Trump said a proposed U.S. infrastructure bill may top $1 trillion and that his administration was working on a major "haircut" on Dodd-Frank banking regulation.
The comments helped industrial and material stocks. The S&P industrial sector <.SPLRCI> and the materials sector <.SPLRCM> were both up 0.2 percent. Caterpillar <CAT.N> gained 2 percent.
However, financials investors appeared skeptical as the S&P bank subsector <.SPXBK> was down 0.4 percent.
While Trump's pro-business policy promises have helped U.S. equities hit record highs since the Nov. 8 election that brought him to power, recent setbacks in pushing reforms through Congress have led investors to question his ability to deliver.
"We will probably have a period of consolidation here as the realism sets in ... It's likely that we are going to see some choppy sideways trading," said Jason Pride, director of investment strategy at Glenmede in Philadelphia.
At 2:55 P.M. EDT (1855 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> was up 24.95 points, or 0.12 percent, to 20,675.16, the S&P 500 <.SPX> had lost 0.48 point, or 0.02 percent, to 2,358.36 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> had dropped 1.10 points, or 0.02 percent, to 5,893.59.
Ralph Lauren shares fell 4.8 percent to $77.48. The retailer's struggles were a worrying sign for a sector losing ground to online shopping sites. Nordstrom Inc <JWN.N> was down 5.2 percent, L Brands Inc <LB.N> was down 4.4 percent, Kohl's Corp <KSS.N> was down 3.5 percent and Macys Inc <M.N> was down 2.9 percent.
The financials index <.SPSY> fell 0.28 percent. Bank of America <BAC.N> was its biggest drag with a 0.6 percent decline after a rating cut by Citigroup.
The biggest drag on the S&P and the Nasdaq was Nvidia <NVDA.O>, which dropped 7.1 percent to $100.65 after Pacific Crest downgraded the chipmaker's stock.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.08-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.48-to-1 ratio favored decliners.
The S&P 500 posted 11 new 52-week highs and seven new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 36 new highs and 43 new lows.
(Reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D'Souza and James Dalgleish)