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US STOCKS-Wall Street treads water with tariff deadline in focus

By Shreyashi Sanyal

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* Chinese exports in Nov. drop for fourth straight month

* Qorvo, Skyworks rise on BAML upgrade

* 3M falls, pressures Dow Jones index

* Merck to buy ArQule for $2.7 billion

* Indexes off: Dow 0.20%, S&P 500 0.05%, Nasdaq 0.04% (Adds comments, updates price action)

By Shreyashi Sanyal

Dec 9 (Reuters) - Wall Street's main indexes treaded water on Monday, with investors keeping a close watch on headlines around U.S.-China trade 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.

However, markets are still hoping for a delay in the deadline, while expecting more positive gestures from both sides.

"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 high.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 54.79 points, or 0.20%, at 27,960.27, the S&P 500 was down 1.51 points, or 0.05%, at 3,144.40 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 3.44 points, or 0.04%, at 8,653.09.

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

Pressuring the Dow was 3M Co, which fell 0.5% after Citigroup cut its rating on the industrial conglomerate's shares.

Apple suppliers Qorvo Inc and Skyworks Solutions Inc rose about 2.5% each, after Bank of America Merrill Lynch upgraded shares of both companies.

Merck & Co dipped 0.3% 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 1.37-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and by a 1.07-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 21 new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 73 new highs and 31 new lows. (Reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal and Medha Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr and Anil D'Silva)