MARKET SNAPSHOT: Stock Market Hits Records On Tax-cut Optimism; Nasdaq Tops 7,000 For First Time

By Barbara Kollmeyer, MarketWatch , Ryan Vlastelica Features Dow Jones Newswires

Dow on track for highest number of record closes in a year

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U.S. stocks rose on Monday, with major indexes hitting records on growing confidence congressional Republicans will succeed in getting a major tax bill passed this week.

The day's gains were broad, with 10 of the 11 primary S&P 500 sectors higher on the day. Financials, which are seen as the biggest beneficiaries of the tax legislation, were among the biggest gainers of the day, up 0.7%. Separately, energy shares rose 0.9% while material stocks were up 1.5%.

What are indexes doing?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 138 points, or 0.6%, to 24,789. The blue-chip average is on track for its seventh positive session of the past eight, and if it ends in positive territory on Monday, that will mark the blue-chip average's 70th record close of the year, which itself represents the highest number of record closes in a single calendar year (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-dow-is-about-to-set-a-record-for-setting-records-2017-12-18).

The S&P 500 gained 0.6% to 2,692, a gain of 16 points. The Nasdaq Composite Index rose 0.9%, or 62 points, to 6,998. All three hit intraday records in early trading, while the Nasdaq topped 7,000 for the first time (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/nasdaq-breaks-above-7000-for-the-first-time-2017-12-18).

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All three benchmarks scored new closing highs on Friday (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/dow-sp-set-for-4th-week-of-gains-as-traders-shake-off-tax-worries-2017-12-15), driven by optimism over the tax-cut legislation. Last week, the Dow and the S&P 500 closed out their fourth straight weekly gain. The two have also risen in 12 of the past 14 weeks.

What's driving the markets?

Speaking on several Sunday talk shows, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he has "no doubt" (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/mnuchin-says-no-doubt-congress-will-pass-tax-bill-this-week-2017-12-17) that the GOP's tax bill will make it to the desk of President Donald Trump this week. Optimism that the Republicans will have the votes they need for passage built last week after two holdouts, Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Marco Rubio of Florida, pledged their support for the tax overhaul.

Read:Here's what's in the Republican tax deal (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/heres-whats-in-the-republican-tax-deal-2017-12-13)

However, there remains a slim 52-48 Senate Republican majority. Sen. John McCain of Arizona is expected to miss the vote (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/sen-john-mccain-wont-vote-on-republican-tax-bill-report-2017-12-17) as he's returning to his home state for physical therapy and rehabilitation linked to a brain tumor that was diagnosed over the summer.

Among other changes, the bill would lower the corporate tax rate to 21% from 35%, which would serve as an immediate boost to earnings. That could serve as a tailwind to equity prices, although experts are split on whether it would result in more hiring or higher wages, as the government has claimed.

Related:Why the Disney deal suggests the tax bill may mean little for the economy (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/why-the-disney-deal-suggests-the-tax-bill-may-mean-little-for-the-economy-2017-12-14)

Investors are also looking out for a speech later Monday from Trump, who is expected to announce a new national security strategy, according to media reports.

What are analysts saying?

"There's a pretty significant benefit to lower tax rates, which still haven't been fully baked into the market. Plus, there's still a lot of positive momentum and global data continues to be strong, which have as much to do with the economic environment as tax reform does," said Tony Roth, chief investment officer at Wilmington Trust, which has about $82 billion in assets under management.

Which stocks are in focus?

Financial stocks were broadly higher. Wells Fargo & Co.(WFC) rose 1.1% while Bank of America Corp.(BAC) rose 1.1%.

Large-capitalization technology and internet stocks helped support the Nasdaq. Apple Inc. (AAPL) rose 1.7% while Amazon (AMZN) jumped 0.9%.

Shares of Akamai Technologies Inc. (AKAM) jumped 14% after activist hedge fund Elliott Management Corp. on Friday reported a 6.5% stake in internet technology company.

Oracle Corp.(ORCL) fell 0.4% after the software company struck a $1.2 billion deal to buy Australian project-management software provider Aconex Ltd (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/oracle-strikes-12-billion-deal-for-australias-aconex-2017-12-18).(ACX.AU). Aconex shares closed a whopping 44% higher in Sydney.

CSX Corp.(CSX) fell 0.1% after Chief Executive Hunter Harrison died on Saturday (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/csxs-chief-executive-dies-a-day-after-medical-leave-news-cuts-billions-from-market-cap-2017-12-16) from "unexpected severe complications from a recent illness." Shares of the railroad company slumped 7.6% on Friday on the surprise announcement that Harrison was placed on medical leave.

Shares of Twitter Inc.(TWTR) jumped 9.4% after analysts at J.P. Morgan upgraded the stock to buy from neutral (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/twitter-stock-jumps-as-jp-morgan-praises-product-improvements-profit-trajectory-2017-12-18), citing product improvements that are under way, including a new emphasis on live video and a better user interface.

What's new in economics?

The National Association of Home Builders' monthly sentiment index surged five points to 74 (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/home-builder-confidence-roars-to-an-18-year-high-2017-12-18) in December, its highest reading since 1999.

There were no Federal Reserve members scheduled to speak on Monday.

What are other markets doing?

The dollar slipped back against most other major currencies, with the ICE Dollar Index down 0.3%. The greenback advanced on Friday (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/dollar-edges-higher-but-remains-on-track-for-weekly-decline-2017-12-15) on increased optimism the Republican tax bill will get approved before Christmas.

The tax hopes also drove Asian stock markets (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/financials-drive-gains-in-japan-australia-on-investor-optimism-over-us-tax-plan-2017-12-18) higher on Monday, while European stocks opened with solid gains (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/european-stocks-rally-on-us-tax-reform-optimism-with-banks-in-charge-2017-12-18).

Oil prices (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/crude-oil-rises-to-1-week-high-on-signs-of-slower-us-drilling-activity-2017-12-18) moved higher, while gold was up 0.1% at $1,259.20 an ounce.

Bitcoin made its debut on the world's biggest future exchange, the CME Group's Chicago Mercantile Exchange (https://dowjones.slack.com/messages/D1C77N44F/)(CME), on Sunday, opening above $20,000. The January contract was down 0.9% at $19,320 on Monday morning.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 18, 2017 14:21 ET (19:21 GMT)