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Wall St lifts on easing coronavirus impact

Lewis Krauskopf

US stocks gained for a fourth straight session on Thursday and Wall Street's main indexes hit record highs as concerns eased over the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak in China.

China said it would halve additional tariffs levied against some US goods, seen by analysts as a move to boost confidence after the fast-spreading coronavirus disrupted businesses and sparked broad market volatility.

"The one primary thing that everyone has been listening to and watching and seeing how it moves the market has been the coronavirus," said Jonathan Corpina, senior managing partner for Meridian Equity Partners in New York.

"The headlines have been somewhat neutral lately, and that has been acceptable for the markets."

Adding to the optimism for stocks were data showing that the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits dropped to a nine-month low last week, with investors casting an eye toward Friday's monthly US employment report.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 88.92 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 29,379.77, the S&P 500 gained 11.09 points, or 0.33 per cent, to 3,345.78 and the Nasdaq Composite added 63.47 points, or 0.67 per cent, to 9,572.15.

Among S&P 500 sectors, communication services and technology led the way, while energy fell the most.

Even with optimism about containing the broad economic damage from the coronavirus, the impact of the health emergency in China continued to show up in corporate reports.

Chipmaker Qualcomm flagged a potential threat to the mobile phone industry from the outbreak. Its shares fell 0.3 per cent.

Investors were also digesting the acquittal of US President Donald Trump on impeachment charges.

"The outcome was fairly well telegraphed and I think widely believed, but it ends the chapter for now and I think that is a modest positive for investor sentiment," said James Ragan, director of wealth management research at DA Davidson in Seattle.

With the fourth-quarter corporate reporting season more than halfway completed, S&P 500 companies are expected to have increased earnings by 2.1 per cent for the period.

In earnings news, Becton Dickinson and Co shares slid 11.8 per cent, contributing the biggest drag on the S&P 500, after the medical technology company cut its 2020 forecast.

Kellogg shares slumped 8.5 per cent after the breakfast cereal maker forecast full-year earnings that widely missed market expectations.

Twitter shares soared 15.0 per cent after the social media company reported $US1 billion in quarterly revenue for the first time.

Philip Morris International shares rose 2.7 per cent after the tobacco company released results.

About 7.3 billion shares changed hands in US exchanges, below the 7.7 billion daily average over the last 20 sessions.