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Stocks slip in midday trading as investors wait on trade

Stocks edged lower in midday trading on Wall Street Thursday as investors waited for the latest news on negotiations to end the trade war between the U.S. and China.

The losses follow Wednesday’s advance on a report that Washington and Beijing could be on track for a trade deal before new tariffs are set to hit some popular products, including smartphones, on Dec. 15. Investors received mixed signals earlier this week, including President Donald Trump’s statement that he wouldn’t mind waiting for a deal beyond the 2020 elections.

Existing tariffs have been a key sticking point in negotiations and China has been calling for the U.S. to roll back some of them as part of the latest push for a deal.

Specialist Christopher Riggs, left, works with traders Fred DeMarco, center and Philip Powers on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. Stocks are opening slightly higher on Wall Street led by technology companies and banks. (AP PhotoRichard Drew)

Health care had some of the biggest losses. The House plans to hold a vote next week for a bill that would allow Medicare to negotiate prices over costly prescriptions drugs. Alexion Pharmaceuticals slumped 7% and Biogen fell 2.6%.

Retailers were also among the companies losing ground. Costco fell 1.2%.

Technology stocks held up well. Computer maker HP rose 1%. The sector has much to gain, or lose, in trade negotiations because many of the companies rely heavily on China for sales and supplies.

Trader Michael Urkonis works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. Stocks are opening slightly higher on Wall Street led by technology companies and banks. (AP PhotoRichard Drew)

Rising bond yields helped steady banks. The sector relies on higher bond yields to charge more lucrative interest on loans. The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 1.79% from 1.78% late Wednesday.

KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 index fell 0.1% as of 11:45 a.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 50 points, or 0.2%, to 27,600. The Nasdaq fell 0.1%. The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks outperformed the major indexes and gained 0.2%.

European markets moved higher and Asian markets were mixed.

Robert Charmak, center, works with fellow traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. Stocks are opening slightly higher on Wall Street led by technology companies and banks. (AP PhotoRichard Drew)

ECONOMY WATCH: Wall Street has been assessing disappointing economic data this week in the lead-up to a highly anticipated jobs report. Economists expect the unemployment rate to hold steady at 3.6%.

Data released on Wednesday showed that the U.S. services sector, which makes up the bulk of the economy, grew at a surprisingly slow pace. That does not bode well as a gauge for the economy while the manufacturing sector continues shrinking.

Payroll processer ADP, on Wednesday, reported that private employers added far fewer jobs in November than economists expected. Job growth has been a strong part of the economy and the report raises doubts ahead of the Labor Department’s more comprehensive update on Friday.

Trader James MacGilvray works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. Stocks are opening slightly higher on Wall Street led by technology companies and banks. (AP PhotoRichard Drew)

COCKPIT SHUFFLE: United Airlines held steady after it said CEO Oscar Munoz is stepping down from his post and will become executive chairman. The airline said that President J. Scott Kirby will be its new CEO.

Munoz led the company through a choppy period, and in 2017 gave up his bonus after the forcible removal of a ticketed passenger led to widespread criticism.

Trader Gregory Rowe, left, and specialist Michael Pistillo work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. Stocks are opening slightly higher on Wall Street led by technology companies and banks. (AP PhotoRichard Drew)

Trader John Panin works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. Stocks are opening slightly higher on Wall Street led by technology companies and banks. (AP PhotoRichard Drew)