Investors flock to safe-haven bonds; stocks end mixed

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The S&P 500 edged slightly lower on Thursday, in its first four-day losing streak of 2018, while global political tensions kept demand high for safe-haven government bonds on both sides of the Atlantic.

Traders work on the trading floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

It was a choppy day overall for stocks, with MSCI's gauge of stocks across the globe .MIWD00000PUS shedding 0.07 percent.

European indexes closed in the black. The S&P was modestly higher until a late-afternoon report that U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller had subpoenaed documents from the Trump Organization, which President Donald Trump ran with his family before entering the White House.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI rose 115.54 points, or 0.47 percent, to 24,873.66, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 2.15 points, or 0.08 percent, to 2,747.33, and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 15.07 points, or 0.2 percent, to 7,481.74.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index .FTEU3 rose 0.53 percent.

Concerns about moves by Trump viewed as protectionist, including his seeking to impose duties of up to $60 billion on Chinese imports, had pressured equities this week, particularly shares of manufacturers.

Before the disclosure of the Mueller subpoena, those concerns showed signs of easing after Peter Navarro, Trump’s top adviser on international economic exchanges, said on CNBC that the tariffs would not necessarily provoke a trade war.

That helped buoy companies like heavy equipment maker Caterpillar Inc CAT.N, which rose 1.3 percent, while S&P's industrial index rose 0.4 percent.

In Europe, a strong showing by insurance companies like Munich Re MUVGn.DE and Generali GASI.MI, both up more than 2.5 percent, offset political concerns over creeping far-right influence in Italy and growing tensions between Russia and the U.K..

The U.S. dollar gained against a basket of six other currencies. The dollar index .DXY rose 0.47 percent, with the euro EUR= up 0.01 percent to $1.2305.

But the dollar remained down against the safe-haven Japanese yen, a sign investors remain concerned about political and economic instability.

Bond yields, too, reflected an increased appetite for government assets viewed as less risky.

Many yields in the euro zone fell to their lowest levels since late January, pushed down by both political uncertainty and expectations for a slow exit from the European Central Bank’s stimulus.

Germany’s 10-year bond yield fell to 0.57 percent, its lowest level in seven weeks. French and Dutch 10-year bond yields also fell to their lowest levels since January.

“It’s the backdrop that’s leading yields to drop, with ... concerns from investors about the U.S. trade war and Trump rebuilding his cabinet, as well as political reports from Italy about populist party negotiation,” said ING rates strategist Benjamin Schroeder.

The U.S. Treasury yield curve continued to flatten, with the spread between the 2- and 10-year yields shrinking to 53.40 basis points, a fourth straight day of contraction, reapproaching the decade low hit in January.

The spread between 5- and 30-year yields was down to 43.70 basis points, also approaching decade lows hit in early February.

Benchmark 10-year notes US10YT=RR last fell 3/32 in price to yield 2.8262 percent, from 2.817 percent late on Wednesday.

The 30-year bond US30YT=RR last /32 in price to yield 3.0576 percent, from 3.058 percent on Thursday.

Oil prices edged higher in choppy trade. U.S. crude CLcv1 rose 0.38 percent to $61.19 per barrel and Brent LCOcv1 was last at $65.05, up 0.25 percent on the day.

Additional reporting by Fanny Potkin and Kate Duguid; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Leslie Adler