Merck lifts Dow; S&P, Nasdaq flat ahead of Trump speech

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By Yashaswini Swamynathan

Healthcare stocks boost the Dow early on Wednesday, while the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq were flat ahead of Donald Trump’s first formal news conference, where he is expected to give more insight into his plans to boost economic growth.

The U.S. President-elect, who takes office on Jan. 20, is scheduled to speak in New York at 11:00 a.m. ET (1600 GMT).

Trump’s election in November sparked a record-setting rally. But, investors now want evidence on if and how he keeps his campaign-trail promises of stimulating the economy though increased public spending, tax cuts and repatriating U.S. companies’ funds from overseas.

The dollar .DXY, which has also basked in Trump’s victory, rose to 102.53. However, concerns over some of his protectionist statements have kept investors wary.

Oil prices also helped keep the equity market afloat, rising for the first time in three days after Saudi Arabia provided details of a February supply cut to some of its Asian customers. [O/R]

“The overall technical picture for the stock market remains firm and we look for commodities to be the market leaders of the day, thereby, keeping the markets upward trend in place,” Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial, said in a note.

Investors are also closely watching the corporate earnings season, which kicks off with big banks on Friday, to see if financial results can support the lofty valuations Wall Street is trading at.

The combined profit of S&P 500 companies is estimated to have risen 5.8 percent in the fourth quarter – the best in three years – largely helped by financials stocks, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

At 9:37 a.m. ET (1437 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was up 26.22 points, or 0.13 percent, at 19,881.75 and the S&P 500 .SPX was down 0.53 points, or 0.02 percent, at 2,268.37. The Nasdaq .IXIC was down 1.58 points, or 0.03 percent, at 5,550.24.

Eight of the 11 major S&P sectors were higher, with the healthcare sector’s .SPXHC 0.25 percent rise the biggest boost. The sector is set for its seventh straight day of gains.

Merck (MRK.N) surged nearly 5 percent to $62.89 after the FDA agreed to a speedy review of the company’s application to combine immunotherapy with other drugs to treat lung cancer. The stock gave the biggest push to the S&P and the Dow.

AstraZeneca (AZN.N) and Bristol-Myers (BMY.N), which are also developing similar therapies, dropped 0.7 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively.

Rite Aid (RAD.N) rose 3.8 percent to $8.64 after the NY Post reported that the drugstore operator’s deal to be acquired by Walgreens (WBA.O) would be approved this month. Walgreens rose 1.7 percent.

New York Federal Reserve President William Dudley is expected to speak on banking regulations at 01:20 p.m. ET.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers on the NYSE by 1,351 to 1,179. On the Nasdaq, 1,263 issues fell and 873 advanced.

The S&P 500 index showed five new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 31 new highs and six new lows.

(Reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D’Souza)

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