Dow soars 256 points on tax plan, Jerome Powell hearing

Fed pick: Banks are not too big
Fed pick: Banks are not too big

The incredible stock market rally keeps getting better. Wall Street's latest cause for celebration: Progress on tax cuts and a fine debut performance for Fed chief nominee Jerome Powell.

The Dow soared another 256 points to fresh record highs on Tuesday, notching its best day since September 11. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq also landed at all-time highs yet again.

Powell, President Trump's pick to replace Janet Yellen at the Federal Reserve, put the market in a good mood early in the day.

Speaking at his Senate confirmation hearing, Powell signaled support for raising interest rates at only a gradual pace. The former investment banker expressed a desire for "appropriate ways" to ease rules on banks, while keeping most post-crisis reforms intact.

"Jerome Powell kicked things off by saying he's not going to rock the boat at all," said Ryan Detrick, senior market strategist at LPL Financial.

Powell's talk of higher rates and lighter regulation helped spark another rally for bank stocks. Citigroup (C), Bank of America (BAC) and Wells Fargo (WFC) all rose sharply.

"Powell brings certainty. Banks haven't known what's going to come at them next for some time. Lawsuits, fines, more regulation," said Steve Chiavarone, portfolio manager at Federated Investors.

Some investors may have also been relieved Powell didn't wade into the tax debate in Congress. The Fed nominee declined to share his views on the tax bill's impact on the economy.

Related: Stocks don't need tax cuts to keep going strong

U.S. stocks hit session highs after the GOP tax bill cleared a key hurdle by narrowly advancing through the Senate Budget Committee.

Wall Street is betting the Republican tax overhaul will boost the stock market by allowing businesses to save on what they owe Uncle Sam. The Senate plan calls for slashing the corporate tax rate in 2019 to 20% from the current level of 35%.

Enthusiasm for the tax news was evidenced by strong gains for small-cap stocks, which are thought to be bigger winners in tax reform because they tend to pay higher taxes. The Russell 2000, an index of mostly small companies, soared 1.5%.

Investors were dealt a brief scare early in the afternoon when North Korea launched an intercontinental missile. The S&P 500 briefly flatlined on the news before rebounding when it became clear the missile did not pose a threat to the U.S. or allies.

Including Tuesday's big gains, the Dow is now up 21% since Trump's election last year. The Nasdaq has soared 28%.

Not only that, but the stock market has experienced record calm. The S&P 500 is in the midst of its longest rally without a 3% slump ever, according to Bespoke Investment Group.

All of that has raised concern among some that stocks have become too expensive and are overdue for a pause.

"Valuations do look stretched," said Kate Warne, investment strategist at Edward Jones.

She said that elevated stock prices likely indicate future returns may be more muted.

"While it's good news that stocks keep going up, don't expect the double-digit returns to continue," Warne said.

--CNNMoney's Paul R. La Monica and Donna Borak contributed to this report.

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