U.S. Stocks Little Changed Ahead of Tariff Rollout

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03/08/2018 | 05:18 pm

By Georgi Kantchev and Akane Otani

U.S. stocks wobbled near the flatline Thursday, as the White House prepared to roll out widely debated tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 22 points, or 0.1%, to 24823. The S&P 500 added 0.1% and the Nasdaq Composite advanced 0.2%.

Global stocks have gained traction in recent sessions as investors have kept a close eye on the Trump administration's proposed tariffs, which many fear could result in retaliatory tariffs from other countries.

The president is expected to sign a decree this week laying out his plans, although he is expected to spare Canada and Mexico -- -two major trading partners for the U.S. -- following debate within the White House and on Capitol Hill. The narrowing of the planned tariffs has helped stocks regain ground in recent sessions, with the S&P 500, Dow industrials and Nasdaq all on track to post weekly advances.

Still, investors say volatility, which spiked in February on concerns about rising inflation, will remain elevated as details about the trade plan continue to trickle out.

"We're generally in a more volatile environment and the market will be sensitive to any headlines," said Randy Warren, chief investment officer of Philadelphia-based Warren Financial.

A flurry of corporate news drove swings in individual stocks Thursday.

Cigna shares fell 9.6% after the health insurer said it planned to buy Express Scripts, a St. Louis-based pharmacy-benefit manager, for more than $50 billion. Express Scripts shares jumped 11%.

Meanwhile, shares of Kroger -- one of the largest supermarket chains in the U.S. -- tumbled 11% following its quarterly earnings results. The company said profits grew in the fourth quarter, but delivered a full-year profit forecast that disappointed many analysts.

Wynn Resorts shares jumped 4.3% after two members of the casino operator's board of directors said they would step down amid ongoing investigations into alleged sexual misconduct by former Chief Executive Steve Wynn.

Elsewhere, the European Central Bank left interest rates unchanged Thursday but dropped a pledge to accelerate its bond purchases if the economy deteriorates. That step was expected by some analysts who see it as a further step toward monetary policy normalization.

The change is "further indication that QE [quantitative easing] is coming to an end this year," Claus Vistesen, chief Eurozone economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said in a note.

The euro fell 0.5% against the U.S. dollar following the ECB's announcement, while the Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.9%, supported by a rally in technology shares.

Government bonds strengthened Thursday, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note at 2.854%, according to Tradeweb, compared with 2.883% Wednesday. Yields fall as bond prices rise.

Earlier, stocks in Asia broadly closed higher. Japan's Nikkei Stock Average rose 0.5%, while South Korea's Kospi Composite extended gains from earlier in the week and added 1.3%.

Ese Erheriene contributed to this article.

Write to Georgi Kantchev at georgi.kantchev@wsj.com and Akane Otani at akane.otani@wsj.com

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