* U.S. indexes off highs, European shares edge lower
* Vote on U.S. healthcare reform bill set for 3:30 p.m.
* Failure might shift agenda straight to tax reform
* Gold prices gain as dollar edges lower
(Updates to close of European markets)
By Sam Forgione
NEW YORK, March 24 U.S. shares pared gains and
European shares slipped on Friday as investors were on
tenterhooks awaiting the outcome of a vote in Washington on
healthcare legislation reform, seen as pivotal for U.S.
President Donald Trump's pro-growth agenda.
The benchmark U.S. S&P 500 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq
Composite edged off their highs of the day, while the Dow was
little changed amid uncertainty that Trump and the Republican
leaders who crafted the healthcare bill had enough support to
pass it, meaning they now risk defeat in their first attempt at
major legislation and a key campaign pledge.
Trump warned House Republican lawmakers that he will leave
Obamacare in place and move on to tax reform if they do not get
behind new healthcare legislation in a vote on Friday. The White
House said the vote was scheduled for 3:30 p.m. EDT (1930 GMT).
The back-and-forth over the bill has led to some of the
choppiest trading Wall Street has seen since Trump’s election in
November. Investors had grown worried that a failure of the
legislation would damage prospects for Trump’s pro-growth agenda
items – tax reform and stimulus – which led earlier this week to
the biggest daily drop U.S. stocks have seen since the election.
Some analysts and investors, however, say failure of the
bill would be a catalyst to bring forward action on tax reform
"If this goes on the back burner and they start addressing
corporate tax rates or infrastructure, that would be a positive
for the market," said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at
BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.
MSCI's all-country world equity index was
last up 0.98 point, or 0.22 percent, at 448.46.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was last down 6.27
points, or 0.03 percent, at 20,650.31. The S&P 500 was up
3.73 points, or 0.16 percent, at 2,349.69. The Nasdaq Composite
was up 26.11 points, or 0.45 percent, at 5,843.80.
Europe's broad FTSEurofirst 300 index closed down
0.16 percent at 1,484.54.
The U.S. dollar index, which measures the greenback
against a basket of six major rivals, was last down 0.12 percent
at 99.639, leaving it near a roughly seven-week low of 99.547
touched on Wednesday.
That allowed safe-haven gold prices to edge higher. Spot
gold prices, which hit a more than three-week high on
Thursday of $1,253.12 an ounce, were up 0.22 percent at
$1,247.51 an ounce.
U.S. Treasuries prices rose and yields dipped ahead of the
vote, with benchmark 10-year yields last at 2.405
percent, from 2.418 percent late Thursday.
“This is being seen as a good litmus test of the rest of
Trump‘s agenda,” said Gennadiy Goldberg, an interest rate
strategist at TD Securities in New York.
Oil prices edged higher but remained on track for weekly
losses of about 2 percent as concerns persisted over an excess
Brent crude was last up 7 cents at $50.63 a barrel.
U.S. crude was up 15 cents at $47.85.
(Additional reporting by Patrick Graham and Libby George in
London, Tanya Agrawal in Bengaluru and Karen Brettell and
Caroline Valetkevitch In New York; Editing by Nick Zieminski and