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Trump orders tariffs, but trade fears ease and stocks rise

Associated Press 

After hours of indecisive trading, stocks finished with modest gains Thursday after President Trump formally ordered tariffs on steel and aluminum imports with terms that were less harsh than investors had feared.

Stocks rallied following reports that Canada and Mexico will be exempted indefinitely from the tariffs and that other countries will be invited to negotiate for exemptions.

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Congressional Republicans and business leaders oppose the tariffs and have pushed for the administration to take a more measured approach that would invite less backlash from other countries.

‘‘The president’s tone was far more pragmatic,’’ said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial. ‘‘This certainly is not the strict tariff proposal that the president had suggested in the past couple of weeks.’’

Health care companies rose after the pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts accepted a $52 billion offer from health insurer Cigna. Technology companies also moved higher, but energy companies slipped along with oil prices.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index climbed 0.4 percent, to 2,738.97. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.4 percent, to 24,895.21. The Nasdaq rose for the fifth day in a row, gaining 0.4 percent, to 7,427.95.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks dipped 0.2 percent, to 1,571.97. The index had jumped 4.5 percent over the previous four days as discussion about the proposed tariffs prompted investors to buy US-focused companies and sell multinational firms.

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Friday could prove to be another dramatic day on Wall Street as investors review the government’s February jobs report. Stocks tumbled after the January report showed unexpectedly strong growth in wages, which set off worries about inflation.

The insurer Cigna will spend about $52 billion to acquire the nation’s biggest pharmacy benefit manager, Express Scripts, the latest in a string of proposed deals as health care’s bill payers attempt to get a grip on rising costs. Express Scripts jumped 8.6 percent, while Cigna lost 11.5 percent.

Grocery store Kroger posted a bigger fourth-quarter profit and said its digital sales almost doubled in the past year, but its profit forecast for the current year disappointed investors. The stock fell 12.4 percent.

Newspaper publisher Tronc plunged 24.1 percent after its quarterly profit fell far short of Wall Street’s forecasts.

Benchmark US crude fell $1.03, or 1.7 percent, to $60.12 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, lost 73 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $63.61 in London.

Friday is the ninth anniversary of the current bull market. March 9, 2009, was the lowest point for the S&P 500 after the 2008-09 financial crisis that touched off the Great Recession. The index has roughly quadrupled since then and it’s about five months away from becoming the longest-lived bull market since World War II.

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Bond prices edged higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note declined to 2.85 percent from 2.88 percent. Banks traded lower, because lower yields mean they can’t make as much money from lending.