Wall Street inches higher as concerns over U.S.-Iran escalation ease


(Reuters) – Wall Street indexes edged higher on Wednesday as investors drew comfort from Iranian signals that overnight missile strikes “concluded” its retaliation to the U.S. killing of General Qassem Soleimani.

Sending shivers across global markets earlier in the day, Iranian forces fired missiles at military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq, in response to the killing of Soleimani.

Investors are awaiting a statement from U.S. President Donald Trump at 11:00 a.m. ET. Trump earlier tweeted “All is well!” and said an assessment of casualties and damage was underway. One source said early indications were of no U.S. casualties.

Tehran’s foreign minister said Iran took “proportionate measures” in self-defence and did not seek to escalate the confrontation.

“The attack was much milder than many had feared. Also it seems like the United States is gearing up to protect its interest in the Middle East,” said Mark Grant, chief global strategist at B. Riley FBR Inc.

“A lot of this is a positive reaction to the fact that what has taken place so far hasn’t been worse.”

In a morning note, NatWest Markets said “there is an off ramp here for U.S.-Iranian tensions, or at least for the conflict to move back to the shadow/proxy/economic sanction realm where it has resided.”

At 9:53 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was up 9.81 points, or 0.03%, at 28,593.49, the S&P 500 .SPX was up 7.19 points, or 0.22%, at 3,244.37 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC was up 22.96 points, or 0.25%, at 9,091.54.

Keeping the blue-chip Dow under pressure, Boeing Co (BA.N) fell 1.9% after its 737-800 jet belonging to a Ukrainian airline burst into flames shortly after take-off from Tehran, killing all 176 people aboard.

Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc (WBA.O) slid 6.7% after its quarterly profit missed expectations, hurt by lower payments from insurers on drugs sold at its U.S. pharmacies.

In the latest upbeat U.S. data, the ADP National Employment Report showed private payrolls jumped by 202,000 jobs last month, much above the 160,000 rise expected by economists polled by Reuters.

The numbers come ahead of the government’s more comprehensive employment report for December scheduled for release on Friday.

Macy’s Inc (M.N) gained 1.3% after reporting a better-than-feared 0.6% drop in holiday period same-store sales. Peers J.C. Penney (JCP.N) was up 3.8% and Nordstrom (JWN.N) rose 0.5%.

Lennar Corp (LEN.N) gained 5.3% after the No. 2 U.S. homebuilder beat quarterly profit estimates on the back of lower home prices and mortgage rates. The PHLX housing index .HGX rose 1.6%.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.64-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and a 1.71-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 27 new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 52 new highs and three new lows.

Reporting by Sagarika Jaisinghani, Medha Singh and Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Maju Samuel