Wall St. ends near flat; healthcare shares gain but trade deal delay weighs

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks ended little changed on Wednesday as a report the U.S.-China trade deal could be delayed until December was offset by gains in healthcare shares.

The Nasdaq broke a three-day string of record closing highs, and the Dow barely snapped its two-day run of record highs.

A senior official of the Trump administration told Reuters a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping to sign a long-awaited interim trade deal could be delayed until December, as discussions continue over terms and a venue.

That renewed worries over how long the trade war may continue and caused stocks to trade lower briefly.

“The big headline was Reuters reporting that the signing of ‘phase one’ would potentially be pushed into December. The market sold off on that but nothing major, and right now investors are in a holding pattern, waiting to see if we set new highs and can punch through them,” said Michael O’Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading in Greenwich, Connecticut.

The Trump administration official said it was still possible the “phase one” agreement would not be reached, but a deal was more likely than not.

The recent rally to record highs had been fueled by signs of progress in the U.S.-China trade talks along with some upbeat earnings reports.

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On Wednesday, Humana Inc HUM.N rose 3.5% as the health insurer reported quarterly profit that beat estimates on higher sales of its government-backed Medicare Advantage health plans.

CVS Health Corp CVS.N gained 5.4% after the pharmacy chain posted a better-than-expected quarterly profit, boosted by its Aetna health insurance business and pharmacy benefit management unit. The S&P health care .SPLRCT was up 0.6%.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 0.07 points to 27,492.56, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 2.16 points, or 0.07%, to 3,076.78 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 24.05 points, or 0.29%, to 8,410.63.

Also in health care, DaVita DVA.N shares jumped 12.9% following its results.

The S&P 500 financials index .SPSY extended recent gains, rising 0.4%, while the S&P 500 energy index .SPNY fell 2.3% following declines in oil prices.

Match Group Inc MTCH.O fell 2.5% as the Tinder owner forecast fourth-quarter revenue below estimates in the face of stiff competition from rival online dating services. Its parent firm, IAC/InterActiveCorp IAC.O, dropped 4.3%.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.21-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.76-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 14 new 52-week highs and 2 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 70 new highs and 68 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 7.93 billion shares, compared to the 6.74 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

Editing by Chris Reese, Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio