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* GE extends declines after 2019 net cash outflow forecast
* Exxon falls after 2020 capex forecast, weighs on energy
* Dollar Tree jumps after comp sales beat
* L Brands up after investor urges sale of Victoria’s Secret
* Indexes dip: Dow 0.09 pct, S&P 0.22 pct, Nasdaq 0.21 pct (Updates to open)
By Medha Singh
March 6 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks took a pause on Wednesday following a strong rally that started this year as investors stayed on the sidelines, awaiting fresh developments on trade.
The S&P 500 has risen 11 percent so far this year, on the back of optimism that the United States and China will end their bitter trade row and a dovish stance on future interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve.
Wall Street started the week on a positive note after a report that the two sides would arrive at a trade deal as early as month-end, but the optimism-driven rally has since fizzled out.
The S&P 500 index has been struggling to go past the 2,800-point mark, a key resistance level, closing lower in five of the past six sessions in choppy trading.
“We started the year with a lot of fears and uncertainty and some of that has abated, but now there’s not a lot of catalysts to push the markets one way or the other,” said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James in St. Petersburg, Florida.
“It’s going to be more of this back and forth for a while until the trade picture gets clearer.”
General Electric Co shares tumbled 4.08 percent, extending losses from a day earlier, after it warned of a negative net cash flow from its industrial businesses this year.
The industrial conglomerate’s fall weighed on the benchmark index and pushed the industrials sector 0.17 percent lower.
However among the bright spots were a few consumer names.
Dollar Tree Inc advanced 3.30 percent, the most on the consumer discretionary sector, after the discount store operator reported better-than-expected quarterly same-store sales.
L Brands climbed 1.23 percent after activist investor Barington Capital urged the company to separate its Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works businesses.
The consumer discretionary index rose 0.13 percent and provided the biggest boost to the S&P 500 index.
At 9:48 a.m. EDT the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 23.04 points, or 0.09 percent, at 25,783.59, the S&P 500 was down 6.10 points, or 0.22 percent, at 2,783.55 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 15.60 points, or 0.21 percent, at 7,560.76.
The energy sector fell 1.36 percent, weighed by oil major Exxon Mobil Corp.
Exxon Mobil fell 2.76 percent and also weighed on the bluechip Dow index, after the company said it planned to increase capital spending by 10 percent to 16 percent next year to restore flagging oil and gas production.
Among other movers, Aon Plc jumped 5.74 percent after the company said it had scrapped plans to pursue a merger with rival insurance brokerage Willis Towers Watson Plc . Willis Towers tumbled 6.08 percent.
The markets seems to have shrugged off data which showed U.S. trade deficit surged to a 10-year high in 2018, with the politically sensitive shortfall with China hitting a record peak, despite the Trump administration slapping tariffs on a range of imported goods.
The Federal Reserve’s Beige Book, a compendium of anecdotes on the health of the economy drawn from the central bank’s sources across the nation, is expected at 2 p.m. ET (1800 GMT).
Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 1.59-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and for a 1.75-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.
The S&P index recorded seven new 52-week highs and three new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 10 new highs and nine new lows. (Reporting by Medha Singh and Amy Caren Daniel in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)