Fed meeting offered only brief reprieve from overseas anxiety
Banks, industrials fail to maintain momentum after Yellen
U.S. stocks erased gains in a late-day collapse after the Federal Reserve held pat on interest rates, with mixed American growth and a sluggish global economy heightening concern the effectiveness of central-bank stimulus has reached its limits.
Equities seesawed post-meeting and during Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s press conference, maintaining gains before caving in the final minutes, spurred by falling crude-oil prices and tumbling Treasury yields which weighed on financial shares.
The S&P 500 Index fell 0.2 percent to 2,071.50 at 4 p.m. in New York, erasing a climb of 0.5 percent, and posting a fifth straight drop, the longest since February. The gauge also closed below its average price during the past 50 days, after holding above the level until the closing minutes. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 34.65 points, or 0.2 percent, to 17,640.17. The Nasdaq Composite Index decreased 0.2 percent.
“The Fed scaling back the indicated pace of rate hikes can be construed as them not seeing requisite strength — there’s a malaise that’s set into the economy,” said Bill Schultz, who oversees $1.2 billion as chief investment officer at McQueen, Ball & Associates Inc. in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “Without something to push equities higher, besides low rates, we’re losing steam here. With uncertainty around the British vote later this month, the path of least resistance seems to be down at this point.”
Equities had been on track to snap a four-day losing streak for most of the day as investors focused on the outcome of the Fed meeting, briefly pushing into the background recent worries about Britain’s potential exit from the European Union.
Traders said selling pressure built through the afternoon but didn’t hit stocks until after Yellen finished her press conference. One signal was in crude, where New York-traded futures began to decline roughly when the Fed’s statement hit, then kept slipping as Yellen answered questions. Others pointed to an imbalance of orders that often materialize at the end of trading sessions.
“There are still a lot of people that use the market on open and close to trade, and what happens is there are buy and sell imbalances,” Joe Sowin, head of global equity trading at Dallas, Texas-based Highland Capital Management LP, said by phone. “There was a $1.1 billion sell imbalance, and when you have an interesting move in the S&P down, more people are inclined to sell in the last half hour. It’s kind of a guerrilla warfare signal.”
Oil fell for a fifth day, capping the longest run of declines since February, with futures dropping 6.3 percent in New York over the last five sessions.
The central bank today signaled a cautious approach to further raising borrowing costs, with more officials seeing only one rate increase this year compared to the previous forecasting round in March.
Policy makers reiterated rates are likely to rise at a “gradual” pace. A tightening labor market, signs of rising wages and a pickup in consumer spending have nudged the Fed toward another hike, while a slowing pace of job creation, evidence of lower inflation expectations and persistent risks from outside the U.S. have provided reason for caution.
Traders trimmed bets on higher rates, pricing in less than 6 percent chance of a rate move in July, down from 18 percent before the Fed statement and 53 percent two weeks ago, before probabilities were doused by weak May payroll gains. The first month with at least even odds for an increase is pushed out beyond February.
“We’ve had Yellen and other Fed officials speak to us about the strength of the economy since the April meeting, and if you read the release today, they basically pushed the spaghetti around the plate — the strengths and weaknesses in the economy just shifted,” said Anna Rathbun, director of research for CBIZ Inc.’s retirement-plan services unit in Cleveland. “This isn’t good news, this is status quo. So the rate hike not coming means we haven’t gone anywhere, and as an investor, I don’t find that encouraging.”
Equities have retreated this week as the potential fallout from Britain’s June 23 referendum spooked investors, just days after optimism over low rates and moderate economic growth buoyed the S&P 500 to an almost 11-month high.
With policy makers depending on data to decide when to act on borrowing costs, a report today showed a rebound in fuel costs pushed up wholesale prices for a second month. Excluding volatile components such as food, energy and trade services, prices declined for the first time in seven months. Other data showed factory production fell more than forecast in May, while manufacturing in the New York region unexpectedly expanded this month, according to a separate measure.
The S&P 500 had rallied as much as 16 percent from a 22-month low in February to within 0.6 percent of an all-time high last week, with a multimonth advance bolstered as crude oil rebounded from a 12-year low and the economy showed signs of gaining enough traction to handle higher rates. The index is still less than 3 percent from its record set nearly 13 months ago, and has gone the longest without a fresh high outside of a bear market since 1984.
The CBOE Volatility Index fell 1.8 percent today to 20.14, slipping for a second day after reaching a three-month high. The measure of market turbulence known as the VIX yesterday ended its longest streak of gains since August. About 6.9 billion shares traded hands on U.S. exchanges, in line with the three-month average.
In Wednesday’s trading, six of the S&P 500’s 10 main industries fell, with utilities and health-care shares sliding at least 0.6 percent. Raw-materials rose 0.4 percent and consumer discretionary shares added 0.3 percent. Financial shares were little changed, nearly wiping out a 1.2 percent rally as a rebound in banks lost momentum amid sliding Treasury yields. Industrials also finished barely changed after rising 0.8 percent.