Wall Street Edges Higher; Powell Hearing, Tax Bill in Focus

(Reuters) – Wall Street indexes hovered near record levels on Tuesday as investors digested comments from Federal Reserve chair nominee Jerome Powell and shrugged off concerns over progress of the U.S. tax bill.

Data pointing to better-than-expected consumer confidence also helped lift sentiment.

“There is much to like about equities from a macro and fundamental basis,” said Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Minneapolis.

The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index for November jumped to its highest in nearly 17 years. The index rose to 129.5 in November, compared with an increase to 124 expected by economists polled by Reuters.

The data follows a report on Monday that showed sales of new U.S. single-family homes hit a 10-year high in October and robust Cyber Monday and Black Friday shopping that hinted at a strong holiday shopping season.

“It is a continuation of favorable expectations for holiday sales. The focus is largely on whether or not this momentum will continue as you move to the end of the year,” said Sandven.

Powell, in his hearing before the Senate Banking Committee, positioned himself as an heir to the central bank policies of current chair Janet Yellen and her predecessor Ben Bernanke.

“I would say no to that,” Powell responded to a question on whether there were any U.S. banks still too big to fail.

The S&P financial index rose 0.7 percent, leading the gainers.

JPMorgan was up 1.4 percent and Bank of America rose 1.3 percent.

President Donald Trump’s tax cut plan is facing uncertainty, with potential opposition from two Republican lawmakers who could prevent the sweeping legislation from reaching the Senate floor.

Trump was due to lobby Republicans at their weekly policy luncheon in the U.S. Capitol. The Senate was poised for a possible vote on the bill as early as Thursday.

At 10:44 a.m. ET (1544 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 83.26 points, or 0.35 percent, at 23,664.04, the S&P 500 was up 8.53 points, or 0.33 percent, at 2,609.95 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 9.97 points, or 0.14 percent, at 6,888.49.

Real estate was the only laggard among the 11 major S&P sectors, falling 0.6 percent.

Emerson Electric’s shares were up 2.42 percent after the company withdrew its offer for Rockwell Automation.

Buffalo Wild Wings jumped 6.4 percent to $155.75 as Roark Capital Group, owner of restaurant chain Arby’s, said it would buy the company for about $2.4 billion.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,632 to 1,073. On the Nasdaq, 1,591 issues rose and 1,124 fell.

(Reporting by Sruthi Shankar and Rama Venkat Raman in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr and Sriraj Kalluvila)