Global earnings boost stocks as trade fears cap gains; sterling slumps

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Stock markets lifted on Monday after strong corporate earnings turned Wall Street positive, but a tariff dispute between the United States and China limited gains in equities while boosting the dollar and helping keep Treasury yields lower.

Sterling dropped to an 11-month low after the British trade minister warned that the nation was headed for a no-deal Brexit, stoking investor fears that Britain could soon leave the European Union without securing a trade agreement.

“Some of the political noise we’re been receiving across the pond reintroduced the Brexit discount into sterling,” said Mazen Issa, senior FX strategist at TD Securities in New York.

U.S. Treasury yields dipped, with the 10-year yield holding below 3 percent on moderate buying, on trade concerns and in advance of this week’s August refunding, where the government will sell $78 billion in coupon-bearing securities.

After opening in the negative, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 57.01 points, or 0.22 percent, to 25,519.59, the S&P 500 gained 11.46 points, or 0.40 percent, to 2,851.81 and the Nasdaq Composite added 43.40 points, or 0.56 percent, to 7,855.41.

The prolonged trade dispute between Washington and Beijing has rattled financial markets across the globe.

“For months now, investors have been guessing about what’s going to happen and there is no precedent to go by,” said Craig Callahan, president at ICON Funds in Denver. “It’s unsettling for the markets.”

Chinese state media attacked President Donald Trump’s trade policies on Monday, calling the U.S. plan ineffective “extortion,” in a bid to reassure investors as growth concerns battered China’s financial markets.

The media campaign comes days after China proposed tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. imports in retaliation to the Trump administration’s plans to impose 25-percent tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports.

Chinese stocks slumped nearly 1.3 percent on Monday.

STRONG CORPORATE RESULTS

Still, U.S. equities have been able to offset some of the fallout of the trade spat with a strong earnings season to date.

Of the more than 400 S&P 500 companies that have reported so far, 78.6 percent have topped earnings estimates. That is well above the average of 72 percent for the past four quarters.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc, which rose 3.5 percent after the Warren Buffett-led conglomerate reported a 67 percent surge in quarterly operating profit on Saturday, helped bump up the S&P.

European shares followed their Asian counterparts lower – hurt by weak European bank earnings and trade fears – but a falling euro boosted exporters and helped halt the slide. The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index lost 0.15 percent and MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe gained 0.07 percent.

Worries about trade were evident in currency markets.

The dollar index, which benefits as investors rush to safety, rose on Monday, building on two consecutive weeks of gains as investors bet that trade war rhetoric and a strong U.S. economy would continue to boost the greenback.

Against a broad basket of currencies, the dollar was last up 0.25 percent to 95.381 and was within striking distance of more-than-one-year peak of 95.652 reached on July 19.

Sterling fell to $1.2920 – its lowest since September 2017 – before settling down half a percent on the day. It slumped 0.4 percent against the euro to 89.33 pence and was the biggest loser among major currencies against a broadly strong greenback.

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Oil prices gained after OPEC sources said Saudi crude production unexpectedly fell in July, raising concerns about global oil supplies as the United States prepares to reinstate sanctions against major exporter Iran.

U.S. crude rose 0.76 percent to $69.01 per barrel and Brent settled at $73.75, up 0.74 percent on the day.