Stocks edged higher in choppy early afternoon trading on Thursday as investors assess former FBI Director James Comey’s statements regarding an investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Comey said he was disturbed by President Donald Trump’s bid to get him to drop a probe into former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, but would not say whether he thought the president sought to obstruct justice.
Comey said he had no doubt that Russia interfered with the election, but was confident that no votes had been altered.
Investors are concerned that any major revelation by Comey could dampen already flagging momentum for Trump’s agenda of lower taxes and lax regulations. Bets that Trump can implement his agenda are partly behind a rally that has taken stock indexes to record highs.
“The hearings should be mostly a non-event for stocks unless there is some kind of unforeseen ‘smoking gun’ either way – detrimental to the president or beneficial to him,” said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.
“Separately, it looks like the market is looking for excuses to go higher as it dances around all-time highs. Earnings are rising, rates are falling, and the technical indicators show the market in an uptrend, so if the hearings maintain the status quo, it could move money off the sidelines into stocks.”
Earlier on Thursday, the European Central Bank signaled no further interest rate cuts as euro zone prospects improved, but said subdued inflation meant it would continue to pump more stimulus into the region’s economy.
Of interest is also the UK general election, with opinion polls showing Theresa May’s Conservative Party leading between 5 and 12 percentage points over the main opposition Labour Party, suggesting she would increase her majority.
At 11:50 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 21.04 points, or 0.1 percent, at 21,194.73.
The S&P 500 was up 0.29 points, or 0.011 percent, at 2,433.43 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 9.15 points, or 0.15 percent, at 6,306.53, easing from its all-time high of 6311.89.
Seven of the 11 major S&P sectors were lower, with the defensive utilities index’s 1.29 percent loss topping the decliners.
Shares of Alibaba Group Holdin were up 10.3 percent at $138.54 after the company said it expects revenue growth of 45-49 percent in the 2018 fiscal year.
Yahoo, which owns a 15.5 percent stake in Alibaba rose 7.6 percent to $54.38.
Nordstrom jumped 10.7 percent to $44.86 after the department store operator said that some members of the controlling Nordstrom family have formed a group to consider taking the company private.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,457 to 1,324. On the Nasdaq, 1,749 issues rose and 990 fell.