Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., January 26, 2022.
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., January 26, 2022. Reuters / BRENDAN MCDERMID

The Nasdaq and the S&P 500 indexes inched higher in volatile trading on Friday as megacap stocks gained ground, while investors assessed talks between U.S. President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping over the Ukraine conflict.

Seven of the 11 major S&P sectors were lower, with energy stocks and utilities falling the most.

Nvidia, Tesla, Apple and Microsoft rose between 0.7% and 5.9%, boosting the tech-heavy Nasdaq.

Xi told Biden that conflicts and confrontations such as the events unfolding in Ukraine are in the interests of no-one, according to Chinese state media. The White House is expected to deliver a warning that Beijing will pay a price if it supports Russia's war effort.

"The geopolitical concerns are responsible for the vast majority of the market movement this week despite the fact that the Fed hiked interest rates," said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab in Austin, Texas.

"China is kind of involved a little bit more today than normal, and that's obviously a concern."

The day also marks "triple witching", where investors unwind positions in futures and options contracts before they expire which often leads to large unexpected moves in markets.

The S&P 500 index and the Dow Jones Industrial Average are on track for their best week since November 2020 on a three-day rally that was fueled by hopes for progress in the Russia-Ukraine peace talks and a widely expected interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve.

The U.S. central bank on Wednesday also forecast an aggressive plan for further hikes while trimming economic growth projections for the year.

At 10:20 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 113.83 points, or 0.33%, at 34,366.93 and the S&P 500 was up 2.9 points, or 0.07%, at 4,415.07.

The Nasdaq Composite was up 90.78 points, or 0.67%, at 13,705.56.

Moderna Inc gained 6.5% after the drugmaker submitted a request to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow for a second booster of its COVID-19 vaccine.

U.S. delivery firm FedEx Corp fell 5.9% as it posted lower-than-expected quarterly earnings on Thursday, while video game retailer GameStop Corp declined 3.3% on reporting a net loss for the fourth quarter.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.11-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and a 1.78-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 19 new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 35 new highs and 19 new lows.