US stocks have struggled for direction as investors weighed prospects of a post-pandemic economic recovery against protests across the country over race and an ongoing stand-off between officials in Washington DC and Beijing.

US manufacturing activity eased off an 11-year low in May, an Institute for Supply Management (ISM) survey showed, the strongest sign yet that the worst of the economic downturn was behind as businesses reopen.

The S&P 500’s 38 per cent rebound since late March has been underpinned by hopes that the global economy would recover from the coronavirus-led downturn as countries start to ease lockdowns.

“The data is showing a pickup in demand which is a key driver for markets going forward,” said Anik Sen, global head of equities, PineBridge Investments.

“The market is reacting somewhat to the rioting and US and China tensions, but it’s only at the margin.”

National Guard troops were deployed over the weekend in 15 US states and Washington DC in an attempt to quell a sixth night of violence that began with peaceful protests over the death of a black man, George Floyd, in police custody.

Target Corp and Walmart Inc closed stores during the unrest that included looting in many cities. Target shares fell 2.1 per cent while Walmart was marginally higher.

Further denting the sentiment, reports said China had told state-owned firms to halt agricultural purchases from the United States after officials in Washington DC said they would eliminate special treatment for Hong Kong to punish Beijing.

In early trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 8.31 points, or 0.03 per cent, at 25,391.42, the S&P 500 was up 1.61 points, or 0.05 per cent, at 3,045.92. The Nasdaq Composite was up 29.94 points, or 0.32 per cent, at 9,519.82.

Real estate and financials led eight of the 11 major S&P sectors higher.

Pfizer Inc fell 8.5 per cent after the drug-maker said the late-stage trial of its breast cancer drug Ibrance was unlikely to meet the main goal of study.

Gilead Sciences Inc fell 4.3 per cent after its antiviral drug remdesivir had mixed results in a late stage study of people with moderate COVID-19, as patients given a five-day course of the treatment showed statistically significant improvement while those given it for 10 days did not.

Coty Inc jumped 20 per cent after the cosmetics company appointed Chairman Peter Harf as its new chief executive officer.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 2.93-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and by a 1.87-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 17 new 52-week highs and no new lows while the Nasdaq recorded 65 new highs and eight new lows.

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