What happened

Shares of Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) were moving higher today, rising in tandem with the broader market and the retail sector on news that the U.S. and China had scheduled trade talks for early October.

There was no direct news out on the high-end retailer, but the stock was up 6.2% nonetheless as of 10:50 a.m. EDT, since it's proven to be one of the retail stocks that are more sensitive to tariff-related news. At the same time, the S&P 500 was up 1.4%, and the SPDR S&P Retail ETF (NYSEMKT:XRT) had gained 3.4%.

A digital image of the new Nordstrom store in New York.

A mock-up of the new Nordstrom store in New York. Image source: Nordstrom.

So what

Retail stocks, including Nordstrom, have been whipped back and forth by developments in trade talks between the U.S. and China as the news seems to change every week. Today, it was a positive development, though any shift in the relationship has almost always been fleeting.

China said this morning that it would send trade representatives to Washington in early October to hold high-level trade talks after a successful phone call between officials from the two countries.

The news offers investors hope of a thaw in trade relations even as the U.S. placed 15% tariffs on one group of Chinese goods at the beginning of this month and plans to raise existing tariffs from 25% to 30% on Oct. 1.

Now what

The announcement is lifting Nordstrom stock, and at this point, the company can use all the help it can get. The stock has been battered as sales have suddenly slowed and growth has reversed, a sign that the retailer may be succumbing to the same forces in the changing sector that have buffeted its department store peers.

As a high-end retailer, Nordstrom would be more sensitive to a recession, which an inflamed trade war could cause, than some of its downmarket competitors. The company is also opening its flagship women's store in New York next month, expected to be its biggest by sales volume, and a downturn could spoil that highly anticipated opening.

Like most U.S. retailers, Nordstrom also imports a substantial percentage of its merchandise from China.

While a resolution to the trade war alone won't save the company, increasing tariffs are only going to make its chances at a recovery more difficult. Today's news is nothing worth celebrating, but for now, it's a step in the right direction for Nordstrom investors.