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Market Snapshot: S&P 500 on track for record finish as investors assess earnings, Capitol Hill tax battle

U.S. stocks were little changed Thursday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average slightly lower but the S&P 500 was on track for a record close as investors assess a parade of earnings reports and monitor a potential setback in White House efforts to raise the corporate tax rate.

What are major indexes doing?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average

fell 59.57 points, or 0.2%, to 35,549.77..

The S&P 500

was up 5.75 points, or 0.1%, at 4,541.94, trading above its record finish of 4,536.95 from Sept. 2.

The Nasdaq Composite

rose 70.03 points, or 0.5%, to 15,191.71.

On Wednesday, stocks rose with the Dow Jones Industrial Average finishing 0.05% away from its Aug. 16 record close and the S&P 500 ending just 0.02% away from its record settlement. The Nasdaq Composite eked out a small gain, leaving it 1.6% away from its Sept. 7 closing record.

What’s driving the market?

A good start to third-quarter earnings season has helped investors put the nervousness of September behind them, even as concerns over inflation, COVID-19 and China’s economy still linger.

Of the approximately 70 S&P 500 companies that have reported results so far, 86% posted earnings that topped analysts expectations, according to Refinitiv.

“It’s an impressive turnaround from where the narrative was just a few weeks ago, when the index had fallen by over -5% from its peak as concerns from Evergrande to a debt ceiling crunch set the agenda. But the removal of both risks from the immediate horizon along with another round of positive earnings reports have swept away those anxieties,” said Deutsche Bank strategists led by Jim Reid.

Investors were also monitoring developments around President Joe Biden’s proposed spending bills, after The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Democratic Senl Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona would oppose any increases in the tax rates for businesses, the rich or capital gains.

“The idea of no significant [tax] rate hikes could be a positive for the stock market, which has worried about the impact of a rate increase from 21% now to 25% on corporations,” said Greg Valliere, chief U.S. policy strategist at AGF Investments, in a note. “But this might not be a victory, since other provisions — many controversial — may have to be considered to make up the revenue gap.”

The Washington Post reported late Wednesday that Biden’s advisers are floating new plans, including a tax on billionaires’ assets, a minimum tax on corporations and a tax on companies issuing stock buybacks, potentially raising hundreds of billions of dollars.

Read: White House mulls Plan B, with new taxes for billionaires, stock buybacks: report

In other news, indebted Chinese property developer, Evergrande
was back in the headlines on Thursday after the property developer ended talks to sell most of its property services division.

Investors continue to sift through earnings, including results from Dow component International Business Machines Corp.
which missed revenue estimates, and Tesla Inc.
which offered a cautious outlook after beating third-quarter earnings expectations. IBM shares led Dow decliners, falling 7.5%. Tesla edged down 0.4%.

Some Federal Reserve officials in recent days, including Fed Governors Christopher Waller and Randal Quarles, and Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester, may be laying the groundwork for interest-rate hikes next year if high inflation persists.

The U.S. economy is still growing at a solid pace, the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book noted Wednesday, but labor shortages and supply-chain bottlenecks are restraining growth and triggering higher inflation.

On the economic front, U.S. data showed first-time applications for unemployment benefits fell to 290,000 from 296,000 in the week ended Oct.16. Economists had looked for a figure of 300,000. The Philadelphia Fed’s October manufacturing index fell to 23.8 from 24.5 a month earlier, compared with expectations for a rise to 30.7.

U.S. existing-home sales rose 7% on a monthly basis in September, reaching a seasonally-adjusted, annual rate of 6.29 million, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday.

The U.S. leading economic index grew a softer 0.2% in September, indicating somewhat slower growth, the Conference Board said Thursday.

Which companies are in focus?

Airlines were also in focus on Thursday. Shares of American Airlines Group Inc.

rose 0.8% after the air carrier reported a narrower-than-expected third-quarter loss on revenue that nearly tripled, though load factor came up short.

Southwest Airlines Co.

reported a narrower-than-expected third-quarter loss as passenger revenue nearly tripled, while overall demand remained “quite strong” despite a deceleration in traffic in August and September as a result of surging COVID-19 cases. Shares were little changed%.

AT&T Inc.

shares ticked down 0.2% after the telecommunications giant posted better-than-expected profit for its third quarter and continued to see strong subscriber additions in its wireless business.

Pfizer Inc.

and its German partner BioNTech SE

said Thursday a late-stage trial of a 30-milligram booster dose of their COVID-19 vaccine showed efficacy of 95.6% compared with those who received a placebo. Pfizer shares were off 0.13%, while BioNTech ADRs rose 1.3%.

Freeport-McMoRan Inc.

shares were down 0.2% after the mining company reported third-quarter net profit that soared more than fourfold, while revenue came in shy of forecasts, as realized copper prices soared but gold prices fell.

Shares of Digital World Acquistion Corp.

jumped 92%, and its A-class shares 

rose more than 70%, after the special-purpose acquisition company announced a plan to merge with Trump Media & Technology Group, which aims to launch a social-media platform backed by former President Donald Trump. 

What are other markets doing?

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note

rose 3.4 basis points to 1.671%. Yields and debt prices move in opposite directions.

The ICE U.S. Dollar Index
a measure of the currency against a basket of six major rivals, edged up 0.1%.

Oil futures pulled back from multiyear highs, with the U.S. benchmark

down 1.3% at $82.30 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange Gold futures

edged down 0.2% to $1.781.50 an ounce.

The Stoxx Europe 600

was flat, while London’s FTSE 100

lost 0.3%.

The Shanghai Composite

rose 0.2%, while the Hang Seng Index

fell 0.5% in Hong Kong and Japan’s Nikkei 225

dropped 1.9%.

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