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US: Wall Street gains on data, Mnuchin's remarks on tax reform

[BENGALURU] US stocks extended gains in early afternoon trading on Thursday as largely upbeat data pointed to strength in the economy and investors cheered Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's comments on tax reform.

President Donald Trump's administration has a detailed plan on tax reform and is still on track to execute the agenda by the end of this year, Mnuchin said.

The remarks come on the back of Mr Trump's speech on Wednesday, when he reiterated his longstanding call for slashing the US corporate tax rate to 15 per cent from 35 per cent.

Earlier on Thursday, data showed consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of US economic activity, increased 0.3 per cent last month after a 0.2 per cent gain in June.

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The upbeat consumer report comes a day after data showed the economy grew at its fastest pace in the second quarter in over two years. In China, factory growth accelerated unexpectedly in August, according to a report.

"The outlook for the US and the global economy, remains relatively positive and most investors do not see a recession ahead," said Michael Sheldon, chief investment officer of RDM Financial Group at HighTower. "Given that backdrop, equity markets are likely to grind higher over the next few quarters and pullbacks are likely to be bought by investors."

However, the core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index - the Fed's preferred inflation measure - increased 1.4 per cent in the 12 months through July, its smallest year-on-year increase since December 2015.

"The fact that inflation remains below the Fed's 2 per cent goal makes it tougher for (the Fed) to raise rates in the fourth quarter," added Mr Sheldon.

Investors are also awaiting the comprehensive monthly jobs report on Friday, which will help investors gauge the strength of the labour market as they look for clues on the Fed's next move on rates.

At 12.21pm ET (1621 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 43.9 points, or 0.2 per cent, at 21,936.33 and the S&P 500 was up 11.86 points, or 0.48 per cent, at 2,469.45.

The Nasdaq Composite was up 54.65 points, or 0.86 per cent, at 6,422.96.

Ten of the 11 major S&P sectors were higher, with the health index's 1.13 per cent rise leading the advancers.

UnitedHealth's 1 per cent gain provided the biggest boost to the Dow. The Nasdaq biotech index rose 2.18 per cent, helped by a rise in Gilead, Celgene and Biogen.

Dollar General fell 4.85 per cent after reporting a slide in second-quarter margins.

Campbell Soup slid 6.23 per cent, becoming the biggest percentage loser on the S&P, after the company warned that sales for fiscal 2018 could fall.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 2,114 to 696. On the Nasdaq, 2,162 issues rose and 687 fell.