A man walks past an electronic stock board showing Japan's Nikkei 225 index at a securities firm in Tokyo Friday, May 29, 2020. Shares fell Friday in Asia after Wall Street’s rally petered out amid worries about flaring U.S.-China tensions. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Stocks erase a loss as worries over China tensions fizzle

May 29, 2020 - 3:12 pm

The stock market erased an an early drop and ended mixed, capping a strong week and month. Major U.S. indexes had started the day lower Friday as traders worried that President Donald Trump would reignite a trade war with China, but in a late-afternoon announcement from the White House he instead said the U.S. would cut ties with the World Health Organization, saying it had failed to adequately respond to the coronavirus because China has “total control” over the global organization. The S&P 500 rose 0.5% and closed out its second straight monthly gain. Bond yields fell.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story is below:

Stock indexes edged mostly higher in afternoon trading Friday after President Donald Trump outlined several actions in response to China eroding the autonomy of Hong Kong, but did not mention any moves to upend a trade pact struck with Beijing earlier this year.

The S&P 500 was up 0.2%, extending its gains for the week. The benchmark index, which is on track to close out May with its second monthly gain in a row, had been down 1% ahead of Trump's late-afternoon remarks. The market had been nervous that the Trump administration would reignite a costly trade war between the U.S. and the world's second largest economy.

“Much ado about nothing,” Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA, said of the remarks. “The immediate concern, meaning the cessation of the Phase 1 (trade) accord, did not end up being put on the table, much to traders' relief.”

Technology stocks accounted for much of the market’s afternoon gains. That helped offset losses in banks, industrial companies and elsewhere. Bond yields fell and gold prices rose, signs that investors remain cautious. Oil recovered from an early slide.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 24 points, or 0.1%, to 25,378. The Nasdaq composite, which is heavily weighted with technology stocks, rose 1%. Stock indexes in Europe closed broadly lower following a mixed finish in Asian markets.

Stocks have now recouped most of their losses after the initial economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic knocked the market into a breathtaking skid in February and March.

On Thursday, China’s National People’s Congress approved a national security law aimed at suppressing secessionist and subversive activity in Hong Kong, overriding any potential opposition by local lawmakers.

In his remarks, Trump blasted China, saying Hong Kong is no longer “sufficiently autonomous” to warrant the preferred status that the U.S. had been giving the former British colony when it comes to export controls, extradition treaties and travel.

“Basically, he’s going to treat Hong Kong the way he treats China," Stovall said.

Still, the move by China to get a tighter grip on Hong Kong could undermine the city’s status as a major center for trade and finance. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index finished 0.7% lower Friday.

Washington and Beijing have been trading harsh rhetoric recently on everything from Hong Kong to the response to the coronavirus outbreak. Investors are worried that it could lead to another punishing round of escalating tariffs between the two countries, which would only further damage a global economy punished by a severe recession due to the pandemic.

The market plunged 34% from late February through late March but has rebounded quickly since then after the Federal Reserve and Congress pledged unprecedented amounts of aid for the economy. Recently, investors have favored stocks that would benefit the most from a reopening economy.

Governments around the country and around the world are slowly lifting restrictions meant to corral the outbreak. That has many investors hoping the worst of the recession has already passed, or will soon. However, concerns remain that the relaxing of stay-at-home mandates and the reopening of businesses could lead to another surge in infections, potentially extending how long it will take for the economy to recover.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury, a benchmark for interest rates on many consumer loans including mortgages, fell to 0.64% from 0.70% late Thursday. Lower yields mean investors are cautious about the prospects for economic growth and healthy amounts of inflation.

Oil prices headed lower. Benchmark U.S. crude rose 8.2% to $35.49. Brent crude, the international standard, slipped 0.1% to $35.31.

In overseas markets, Germany’s DAX lost 1.6% and the CAC 40 in France fell 1.6%. Britain’s FTSE 100 dropped 2.3%.

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