Wall Street's main indexes dipped on Wednesday as worries of a protracted U.S.-China trade war were heightened by Washington's tough stance, but losses were limited by a tame inflation report that supported the case for an interest rate cut.
Data showed consumer prices edged up 0.1% in May, in line with expectations of economists polled by Reuters and pointed to moderate inflation. Excluding the volatile food and energy components, the CPI nudged up 0.1%.
"We're not seeing much signs of creeping inflation, or at least increasing inflation. That's one of the things that gives the Federal Reserve to think about lowering rates later this year," Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Securities in New York.
"This is a market that would love to see us get back to the negotiating table. The longer these trade tensions last, the most damage it'll do to the economy, and therefore to earnings."
Fresh worries erupted on the trade front after President Donald Trump said he was holding up a deal with China and had no interest in moving ahead unless Beijing agrees to four or five major points.
With under three weeks to go before proposed talks between the United States and Chinese leaders, sources say there has been little preparation for a meeting even as the health of the world economy is at stake.
Hopes that the Federal Reserve will act to counter a slowing global economy due to escalating trade war have spurred a rally in stocks this month, with the S&P 500 index up about 5% so far in June.
Fed policymakers will meet on June 18-19 and markets have priced in at least two rate cuts by the end of 2019. Fed fund futures imply around an 80% chance of an easing as soon as July.
Banking stocks, which tend to benefit from a higher interest rate environment, dropped 0.55%.
At 9:55 a.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 8.88 points, or 0.03%, at 26,039.63, the S&P 500 was down 1.35 points, or 0.05%, at 2,884.37 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 16.18 points, or 0.21%, at 7,806.39.
Semiconductor stocks, which get a sizeable portion of revenue from China, declined, with the Philadelphia Semiconductor index slipping 1.27%.
Adding pressure on the main indexes were declines in shares of oil majors Exxon Mobil Corp and Chevron Corp as crude prices fell nearly 2%. The energy index fell 0.90%, the most among the 11 S&P sector.
Qualcomm Inc dropped 1.56% after smartphone maker LG Electronics Inc and U.S. Federal Trade Commission opposed the chip supplier's efforts to put a sweeping U.S. antitrust decision on hold.
Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 1.25-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and a 1.31-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.
The S&P index recorded 19 new 52-week highs and two new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 12 new highs and 37 new lows.