By Sinead Carew
(Reuters) - The S&P 500 was roughly flat on Thursday and oscillated between positive and negative territory as investors were nervous of making bets ahead of an announcement from President Donald Trump on metal tariffs after a volatile week marked by worries about a potential trade war.
Trump is expected to formalize 25 percent import duties on steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum at 3:30 p.m ET (2030 GMT), after saying Canada and Mexico would be exempted if they agree on a trade deal with the United States.
But Trump told reporters ahead of the announcement that he had a right to exempt or add countries, adding to uncertainty among market participants.
Worries that the tariffs would ignite a global trade war have dominated markets since Trump announced to tariff plan last Thursday, and the exit of chief economic adviser Gary Cohn late Tuesday intensified such concerns.
"We've been busy buying and selling the rumor. We want to know what the news is. Announcing at the beginning of the trading day this would happen at the end was not great for market action. It ramped up uncertainty," said Kim Forrest, senior portfolio manager at Fort Pitt Capital in Pittsburgh.
"He has a pattern of coming out hard and walking it back. Now we'll see what he means."
At 2:10 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> fell 69.67 points, or 0.28 percent, to 24,731.69, the S&P 500 <.SPX> lost 2.32 points, or 0.09 percent, to 2,724.48 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> dropped 1.45 points, or 0.02 percent, to 7,395.20.
"If he (Trump) does announce much more draconian measures that are going to knock on to other products, I think there will be a sell-off," said Dec Mullarkey, managing director at Sun Life Investment Management based in Wellesley, Massachusetts.
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Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.23-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.23-to-1 ratio favored decliners.
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