A "yes" vote on the Senate GOP's tax bill just got a little more likely. The prospect of a lower corporate tax rate and other incentives blasted Wall Street higher and sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 to records.
The Dow added 332 points and traded well above 24,000, a level not seen before, and above a closing record set a day earlier. The S&P 500 gained 21 points, and the Nasdaq rose 49 points.
The Dow reached a new record for its third day in a row, while the S&P 500 beat a record set on Tuesday, Nov. 28.
The S&P 500 and Dow also closed out November with their eighth straight month of gains and their 10th of the year. The Dow has not seen a month-on-month stretch this long since July 1995.
The passage of the Senate GOP's tax bill looked more likely after Republican Sen. John McCain voiced his support for the legislation. In a statement, McCain said that the bill, "though far from perfect, would enhance American competitiveness, boost the economy, and provide long overdue tax relief for middle class families." The bill proposes cutting the corporate tax rate permanently to 20% from 35%.
However, a number of economists have criticized the bill's logic -- tax relief for corporations does not necessarily inspire increased reinvestment and higher worker wages. In fact, the New York Times reported that an initiative to deliver corporate tax savings in 2004 was funneled toward share buybacks, instead.
The Senate is likely to vote on the Republicans' tax bill within the next 36 hours. The Senate took a procedural vote on Wednesday evening to open up the floor for debate, which will culminate in a vote at some point in the next two days. The Senate voted along party lines, 52 to 48, to begin debate. There remain a few holdouts to the bill so its passage is not yet certain -- Republicans can only afford to lose two votes from their own party.
"We assign a two-thirds likelihood that the Senate will pass its tax reform bill this week, probably on Friday," Lewis Alexander, chief U.S. economist at Nomura, wrote in a note. "Many wavering Republican senators agreed to proceed to debate, indicating that passage in the Senate is now more likely than not, reflecting a number of last-minute changes made to assuage specific senators' concerns."
Stock markets appeared unperturbed by the prospects of another White House shakeup. The New York Times reported Thursday that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would possibly be forced out of the job in weeks, to be replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Relations between Tillerson and President Donald Trump have reportedly been strained, hitting a crescendo in October on reports Tillerson had called the president a "moron."
Technology names rebounded following the Nasdaq's worst day in three months. Facebook Inc. (FB) , Apple Inc. (AAPL) , Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and Adobe Systems Inc. (ADBE) were all higher in a rebound from losses a day earlier. The tech sector has been particularly susceptible to selloffs since the middle of the year following a steep run-up over the past 18 months.
Apple, Microsoft and Facebook are holdings in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio.
Crude oil prices ended slightly higher after Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and other oil-producing nations agreed to extend a production cut agreement through to the end of 2018. Representatives of oil-producing nations had convened in Vienna to discuss a supply-demand imbalance.
The current agreement has reduced supply by 1.8 million barrels per day since January and supported oil's rise beyond $60 a barrel. The agreement to limit production was due to expire in March. OPEC will review production levels at its June meeting.
West Texas Intermediate crude oil was up 0.2% to $57.40 a barrel on Thursday.
Personal incomes and spending in the U.S. rose in October, a positive sign heading into the holiday shopping season. Incomes rose by 0.4%, while spending increased 0.3%. The savings rate climbed to 3.2% from 3%.
Initial weekly jobless claims fell in the past week, holding at multi-year lows. The number of new claims for unemployment benefits fell by 2,000 to 238,000. The less volatile four-week average increased by 2,250 to 242,250.
Manufacturing activity dipped in November, though at a slower pace than anticipated. Chicago PMI fell to 63.9 this month from 66.2 in October, according to the Institute of Supply Management. Analysts expected a decline to 63.5. The measure remains in expansion territory.
In stock news, Juniper Networks (JNPR) shares plunged nearly 6% after European tech equipment maker Nokia Oyj (NOK) denied it was considering an offer for the Sunnyvale, California-based company. Reports on CNBC a day earlier indicated that Finnish network equipment maker Nokia was considering making an offer for the Juniper that would value that company at around $16 billion.
Nokia on Thursday, however, denied the reports, saying it is "not currently in talks with, nor is it preparing an offer for, Juniper Networks related to an acquisition of that company." Espoo, Finland-based Nokia has been concentrating on its telecom equipment business, with a focus on the Internet of Things, 5G and the cloud, since selling its mobile phone unit to Microsoft Corp.
Sears Holding Corp. (SHLD) narrowed quarterly losses in its three months to Oct. 28. Net losses of $5.19 a share compared to a net loss of $6.99 a share in the same quarter a year earlier. Adjusted losses of $2.64 a share came in $1.82 a share less than expected. Revenue tumbled 27% to $3.66 billion, largely a result of store closures. Sears' stock declined 3%.
Barnes & Noble Inc. (BKS) missed second-quarter earnings and sales estimates. A net loss of 41 cents a share was 15 cents wider than anticipated. Revenue decreased nearly 8% to $791.12 million, missing by $21 million.
Costco Wholesale Corp. (COST) reported that comparable-store sales in November rose 10.8%, with e-commerce sales jumping 39%. The warehouse retailer said comparable sales in the U.S. rose 10.2%, 13.8% in Canada and 11.1% in other international countries. Costco said comparable sales in November, excluding the impacts changes in gasoline prices and foreign exchange, rose 7.9%. Net sales in the month rose 13.2% to $11.26 billion.
Kroger Co. (KR) beat earnings and sales estimates over its third quarter. Profit of 44 cents a share beat by 4 cents, while revenue increased 4.5% to $27.75 billion and exceeded consensus by $290 million. Identical-store sales rose by 1.1%, above estimates of 0.9% growth. For the full year, the supermarket chain anticipates earnings of $2 to $2.05, above analysts' target of $1.97.
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