OPENING BELL: Stocks hold steady ahead of tax-plan announcement
NEW YORK — Stock markets around the world made only modest moves on Wednesday, waiting to see what the White House has in store for U.S. tax policy.
Stocks have sprinted higher since November, due in large part to excitement that lower taxes and looser regulations for businesses are on the way. The White House is expected to unveil its first proposals this afternoon, and officials have called them part of "the biggest tax cut" in U.S. history, though the announcement is likely to include only broad outlines and few details.
KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose nearly 2 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,390, as of 9:55 a.m. eastern time. It follows two days of strong gains of more than 0.6 percent, and the index is close to its record closing level of 2,395.96, set at the start of March.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 23 points, or 0.1 percent, to 12,019, and the Nasdaq gained 2, or less than 0.1 percent, to 6,027.
THE TAX PLAN COMETH: Along with expectations for lighter regulations on business, hopes for lower taxes have been among the main drivers for the 10 percent sprint higher for the S&P 500 since Election Day.
The White House is expected to announce this afternoon plans to cut the corporate tax rate to 15 percent from 35 percent. That may be only a starting point for negotiations, but a tax rate even in the 25 percent range would mean fatter after-tax profits for companies, which could propel their stock prices even further.
Such a tax cut could be particularly helpful for smaller companies that do most of their business domestically, which could set up small- and mid-cap stocks for even larger gains than their big, multinational competitors.
EARNINGS: This is a frenetic week for companies reporting how much they earned during the first three months of the year. More than a third of the businesses in the S&P 500 are slated to go this week.
Reports have been largely better than expected, and analysts expect this to be the strongest quarter of growth in years.
Edwards Lifesciences jumped to the biggest gain in the S&P 500 Wednesday after it reported stronger revenue and profit for the latest quarter than analysts expected. Its stock rose $11.41, or 11.5 percent, to $110.33.
MARKETS ABROAD: In Europe, the French CAC 40 rose 0.2 percent, the FTSE 100 in London added 0.1 percent and the German DAX was close to flat. In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 jumped 1.1 percent, the South Korean Kospi rose 0.5 percent and Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.5 percent.