Stocks held higher on Thursday, Aug. 31, as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin talked up the prospects of a major tax overhaul by the end of the year.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.2%, the S&P 500 added 0.4% and the Nasdaq gained 0.65%.
Should the S&P 500 close higher on Thursday, it would mark its fifth straight day in the green, its longest winning streak since mid-May. However, the S&P 500 was still on track to post a small monthly loss, its first since March and only the second since October 2016.
In comments to CNBC, Mnuchin said the White House has devised a “very detailed” tax plan that is currently circulating with members of Congress. The plan will be made public by the end of September.
“It’s going to go through a process and we expect the House and the Senate will get this to the president to sign this year, and we couldn’t be more excited about the progress we’ve made,” he added.
Stock markets closed sharply higher on Wednesday, Aug. 30, after President Donald Trump gave a rough outline of his vision for tax reform and called on Congress to act. In a speech in Missouri, Trump said he wanted to reduce the “crushing” tax burden by “fundamentally [reforming]” a confusing tax code. Among the few details listed, he again said he wanted to cut the corporate tax rate to 15% from 35%.
The tax cut would be part of four main goals the president said should be included in a tax overhaul: simplifying the tax code, making it more competitive with tax regimes in other countries, providing tax relief for middle-class families and encouraging U.S. companies to bring back trillions of dollars in profits “parked overseas.”
National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn said earlier this month that the White House had developed a “skeleton” and that the Ways and Means Committee would need to flesh out the details.
“Once the ground is laid for tax reform, Congress will focus on getting any infrastructure plan through,” said Marc Lowlicht, CEO of Opes Private Wealth Management. “While Congress is very divided on many issues, this is one in which I believe with some posturing on both sides — between tax cuts on the Republican side and job creation especially for the working class on the Democrat side of the aisle — they should find some common ground.”
Crude oil prices bounced back after settling at a one-month low a day earlier. Prices have been under pressure so far this week as damage from Harvey continued to be assessed. West Texas Intermediate crude was up 2.4% to $47.09 a barrel on Thursday morning.
Energy names were among the best performers on Thursday. Smaller energy companies such as Concho Resources Inc. (CXO) , Cimarex Energy Co. (XEC) , Diamondback Energy Inc. (FANG) , Cheniere Energy Inc. (LNG) and Continental Resources Inc. (CLR) were higher, while the Energy Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLE) added 0.6%.
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Gasoline futures spiked to above $2 on Thursday as flooding from Harvey barreled through Texas and Louisiana. Reuters reported that flooding from Harvey has knocked out almost a quarter of U.S. refineries. At least 4.4 million barrels per day of refining capacity was offline, based on company reports and Reuters estimates. Texas refines 5.5 million barrels of oil a day, the most of any state and roughly 30% of the U.S. refining capacity, while Louisiana accounts for around 18%.
Arkema Group SA (ARKAY) company confirmed two explosions at a chemical factory outside Houston that has led to a local evacuation. Local media have reported explosions and black smoke at the in Crosby, Texas plant, which manufactures, among other products, organic peroxide, in the early hours of Thursday morning. The plant had been damaged by the high winds and flooding associated with Harvey.
Arkema had warned Wednesday that the plant would catch fire and explode at some point, adding there was nothing that could be done about it.
U.S. weekly jobless claims rose, though remained near multi-year lows. The number of new claims for unemployment benefits increased by 1,000 to 236,000. The less-volatile four-week claims average fell to 1,250 to 236,750.
Personal incomes and spending each rose in July, a promising sign that the U.S. consumer is bouncing back. Consumer spending increased 0.3% in July, while incomes gained 0.4%. The savings rate declined by 10 basis points to 3.5%.
Business conditions in Chicago this month held steady. Chicago PMI for August was unchanged at 58.9, according to the Institute of Supply Management, besting an expected dip to 58.6. New orders and production hit their highest level since June. Any level above 50 indicates expansion.
Pending home sales in July showed a surprise decline. The measure, which tracks signed real estate contracts, fell by 0.8% in July to 109.1. Sales have declined in four out of the past five months. Analysts expected an increase of 0.5% after a 1.3% rise in June.
Investors were also looking ahead to the official U.S. jobs report to be released on Friday, Sept. 1, in what is the most highly anticipated and closely scrutinized economic data point of any month. The number of jobs added to the U.S. economy is expected to slow down after July marked the fifth month over 200,000 so far this year. Economists surveyed by FactSet anticipate 172,500 jobs to have been added to nonfarm payrolls in August, slowing from a pace of 209,000 in July. The unemployment rate is expected to hold steady at 4.3%, while hourly earnings are forecast to have climbed 0.3% month on month.
Campbell Soup Co. (CPB) declined by 6% after falling short of profit and sales estimates over its fiscal fourth quarter. The canned goods company swung to a profit of $1.04 a share from a loss of 26 cents in the year-ago quarter. However, adjusted profit of 52 cents a share missed estimates by 3 cents. Sales of $1.664 billion also came in short of $1.69 billion consensus. CEO Denise Morrison said the operating environment for packaged foods “remains challenging due to shifting demographics, changing consumer preferences for food, the adoption of new shopping behaviors and the dynamic retailer landscape.” The company expects fiscal 2018 sales between flat to down 2%.
Dollar General Corp. (DG) reported better-than-expected sales over its fiscal second quarter but the stock fell 7%. Sales increased 8.1% to $5.83 billion, ahead of expectations of $5.83 billion. Same-store sales increased 2.6%, 100 basis points above forecasts. Second-quarter earnings of $1.08 a share came in a penny below estimates. Higher sales growth was tied to an increase in average transaction amounts and improved traffic trends.
Barnes & Noble Inc. (BKS) jumped more than 5% on reports it is looking to sell itself. The bookstore chain is reportedly working with Guggenheim to screen potential buyers. DealReporter reported that Apollo Global Management and Platinum Equity were among the private-equity firms interested in Barnes & Noble.
Walt Disney Co. (DIS) could cut around 300 jobs at its Disney/ABC Television Group, a unit that includes its ABC broadcast network and ABC News. The job cuts, likely to come by the end of September, are part of an effort to cut expenses by 10%.
Updated from 11:35 a.m. ET, Aug. 31.
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