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* China seeks WTO backing to impose sanctions on U.S.
* Trade-sensitive industrials drop; Tech stocks rise
* Hurricane Florence drags insurers; Home Depot rises
* Nike gains on broker upgrade
* Dow down 0.05 pct, S&P 0.06 pct; Nasdaq up 0.07 pct (Updates to open)
By Shreyashi Sanyal
Sept 11 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were little changed on Tuesday, as gains in technology stocks helped the Nasdaq regain footing and curbed losses in the materials and industrials sectors due to fears of an escalation in Sino-U.S. trade spat.
President Donald Trump on Friday threatened duties on $267 billion of goods on top of planned tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese products. China has vowed to respond if the United States took any new steps on trade.
China has also decided to approach the World Trade Organization next week for permission to slap sanctions on the United States, for Washington’s non-compliance with a ruling in a dispute over U.S. dumping duties.
“The pressure point today clearly seems to be about trade more than anything else. China’s been playing such a long game and none of that has been good for the markets,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at B. Riley FBR in New York.
“Today feels like the day we were expecting yesterday, but the WTO complaint has been stirring up this escalation, which has reignited our concerns about trade in general.”
Nine of the 11 major S&P sectors were trading lower, with a 0.54 percent drop in the materials sector leading the decliners as metal prices fell on trade war rhetoric.
However, gains in internet stocks kept the Nasdaq afloat, with Facebook rising 0.8 percent, Twitter 1.9 percent and Google-parent Alphabet 0.5 percent.
The trade-sensitive industrials sector fell 0.31 percent, with shares of Caterpillar and Boeing falling 0.4 percent and 1 percent, respectively.
Boeing earlier raised its estimate for purchase of new planes by China over the next two decades by 6.2 percent.
Shares of chipmakers, which rely on China for a major portion of their revenue, also fell. Intel was down 1 percent and Micron 3.7 percent.
At 10:03 a.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 13.84 points, or 0.05 percent, at 25,843.23, the S&P 500 was down 1.76 points, or 0.06 percent, at 2,875.37 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 5.91 points, or 0.07 percent, at 7,930.07.
Also in focus was Hurricane Florence, now a Category 4 storm that is expected to grow stronger before making landfall on Thursday, most likely in southeastern North Carolina near the South Carolina border.
Insurers fell for the second straight day on the storm warning with Travelers down 0.4 percent, Progressive Corp 0.1 percent and American International Group 1.4 percent. However, home improvement chain Home Depot rose about 0.6 percent.
Nike rose 1.2 percent after brokerage Canaccord Genuity upgraded the world’s No.1 sportswear maker’s shares, citing that the company has regained its footing and is solidly marching back to top form.
Integrated Device Technology jumped 11.3 percent after Japan’s Renesas Electronics agreed to buy chipmaker in a $6.7 billion deal to deepen its push into semiconductors for self-driving cars.
Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 1.59-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and for a 1.27-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.
The S&P index recorded 15 new 52-week highs and 12 new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 56 new highs and 57 new lows. (Reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)