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US STOCKS-Wall Street drops as tariff deadline looms

By Shreyashi Sanyal

(For a live blog on the U.S. stock market, click or type LIVE/ in a news window.)

* Qorvo, Skyworks rise on BAML upgrade

* 3M falls after Citigroup downgrade

* Merck to buy ArQule for $2.7 billion

* Indexes off: Dow 0.27%, S&P 500 0.13%, Nasdaq 0.14% (Updates to early afternoon)

By Shreyashi Sanyal

Dec 9 (Reuters) - Wall Street's main indexes fell in afternoon trading on Monday, with investors keeping a close watch on U.S.-China trade relations as planned tariffs on Chinese imports kick in on Dec. 15.

Beijing and Washington are negotiating a first phase trade deal aimed at de-escalating tariff disputes but they continue to wrangle over key details.

Analysts said markets are still hoping for a delay in the deadline, while expecting more positive gestures from both sides, but a lack of fresh update on trade talks sapped risk appetite.

"There is optimism about the potential of a roll back or some positive news on trade that is keeping stocks where they are," said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab in Austin, Texas.

"But as always it ultimately depends on what we get from President Donald Trump or China on what might be going on with the trade deal."

The latest data from China showed exports in November shrank for the fourth consecutive month, underscoring persistent pressures on manufacturers from trade tensions.

The S&P 500 came within striking distance of a record high hit two weeks ago. The three indexes are now less than 1% away from their all-time highs.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 75.84 points, or 0.27%, at 27,939.22, the S&P 500 was down 4.02 points, or 0.13%, at 3,141.89.

The Nasdaq Composite was down 12.54 points, or 0.14%, at 8,643.99.

CMC Markets analyst David Madden said, "The common theme today is low volatility and small trading ranges but the uncertainty surrounding trade is hanging over equities."

Also in focus is the Federal Open Market Committee's two-day policy meeting, which starts on Tuesday.

3M Co fell 0.7% after Citigroup cut its rating on the industrial conglomerate's shares.

Apple suppliers Qorvo Inc and Skyworks Solutions Inc rose about 2% each, after Bank of America Merrill Lynch upgraded shares of both companies.

Merck & Co dipped 0.2% after the drugmaker said it would buy cancer drug developer ArQule Inc for $2.7 billion in cash. Shares of ArQule doubled in value following the news.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.17-to-1 ratio on the NYSE. Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 1.13-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 23 new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 80 new highs and 44 new lows. (Reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal and Medha Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr and Anil D'Silva)