The S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average dipped on Thursday after US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the United States and China were a long way from resolving their trade dispute, while a rally in chipmakers lifted the Nasdaq.
Ross told CNBC it was too early to judge where US-china trade talks are headed, but added there is a fair chance the two countries will get to a trade deal. The world's two largest economies are trying to meet a March 1 deadline to resolve their trade dispute.
"If you watch the political news coming out of Washington, that can mean all the difference in the world. So things can start out on a positive note and we get news about the shutdown, tariff battle with China, that can change the market 180 degrees," said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab in Austin, Texas.
Six of the 11 major S&P 500 sectors were in the red, with the healthcare weighing the most on the benchmark index.
Bristol-Myers Sqibb Co fell 0.7 percent after the drugmaker withdrew its application seeking US approval for a combination of its blockbuster cancer drugs.
Nasdaq stayed afloat, helped by a rally in chipmakers and upbeat earnings reports from transportation companies. The Philadelphia Semiconductor Index jumped 4.79 percent.
Shares of semiconductor company Xilinx Inc jumped 15.7 percent, leading the rally followed by Lam Research Corp, which gained 12.73 percent after both companies reported better-than-expected quarterly results.
Texas Instruments Inc was up 4.82 percent after what analysts said were better-than-feared results, although the company warned of weak demand in China.
Investors were expecting weak reports from chip companies amid warnings of soft smartphone demand from Apple Inc and an economic slowdown in China, on which chipmakers rely for a large portion of their revenue.
Intel Corp, set to report quarterly earnings after the closing bell on Thursday, climbed 3.08 percent.
American Airlines Group rose 5.43 percent and Southwest Airlines Co shares gained 3.76 percent after the companies reported quarterly profits above expectations.
While American Airlines benefited from higher fares during the quarter, Southwest said the partial government shutdown had knocked off $10 million to $15 million from its revenue so far in January.
The Dow Jones Transports index, closely watched by investors to gauge the health of the economy, rose 0.74 percent. The Dow Transports index has also outperformed Wall Street's three major indexes this year.
At 9:50 a.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 51.70 points, or 0.21 percent, at 24,523.92, the S&P 500 was down 0.33 points, or 0.01 percent, at 2,638.37 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 36.02 points, or 0.51 percent, at 7,061.78.
McCormick & Co plunged 10.62 percent, the most on the S&P, after the seasonings maker's quarterly profit missed expectations.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.24-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and by a 1.43-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.The S&P index recorded four new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded seven new highs and 17 new lows.