U.S. Stocks Little Changed Ahead of Tariff Rollout

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03/08/2018 | 07:37 pm

By Akane Otani and Georgi Kantchev

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 fell 34 points, or 0.1%, to 24767. The S&P 500 added 0.1% and the Nasdaq Composite advanced 0.2%.

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

The president is expected to sign a decree this week laying out his plans, although many believe he will 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 11% 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 10%.

Meanwhile, shares of Kroger -- one of the largest supermarket chains in the U.S. -- tumbled 12% after the company said its profits would suffer as it expands its e-commerce platform in an attempt to take on the likes of Walmart and Amazon.com.

Wynn Resorts shares jumped 7% after two members of the casino operator's board said they would step down amid continuing investigations into alleged sexual misconduct by former Chief Executive Steve Wynn.

Shares of Snap shed 1.8% following reports that the social media company is planning its third and largest round of layoffs since going public in 2017.

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.

"They're essentially signaling confidence in the economy and saying it's time to take the training wheels off," said Karyn Cavanaugh, senior market strategist at Voya Investment Management.

Yet even as central banks around the world signal they are moving toward normalizing policy, stocks should continue to be able to eke out further gains, especially with corporate earnings looking robust, Ms. Cavanaugh said.

The Stoxx Europe 600 rose 1% and notched its fourth straight daily advance, supported by a rally in technology shares.

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

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