GLOBAL MARKETS-Stocks slide, yields jump as Fed projects earlier rate hikes


The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 265.66 points, or 0.77%, to 34, 033.67, the S&P 500 lost 22.89 points, or 0.54%, to 4, 223.7 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 33.17 points, or 0.24%, to 14, 039.68. Only two of the S&P's 11 main sector indexes ended in positive territory: consumer discretionary and retail.

WASHINGTON: Markets were jostled Wednesday after U.S. Federal Reserve officials projected interest rate hikes sooner than expected, with stocks sliding and the dollar jumping on the news.

All three major U.S. indices fell following the afternoon announcement, as investors digested the possibility that interest rates could begin climbing sooner as Fed officials cited an improved economic outlook.

At the conclusion of its two-day policy meeting, the Fed disclosed that 11 out of 18 officials were projecting at least two quarter-point interest rate increases in 2023, as Fed Chairman Jerome Powell insisted at a press conference that the U.S. economy is well positioned coming out of the pandemic. The Fed said monetary support will remain until "substantial further progress" is seen on employment and inflation.

"The central case growth and inflation expectations for the next couple of years have not changed by much since March, but there is an explicit recognition that the vaccination program has reduced the risks to the economy from the health crisis," said Brian Coulton, chief economist at Fitch Ratings.

Investors had been fixated on the new Fed statement all week, as it was the first policy update from the central bank since fresh economic data showed job growth slowing and inflation on the rise. New projections from Fed officials showed an uptick in projection inflation in the near term, but the Fed did not indicate any significant rethinking of its approach, said analysts.

"Clearly expectations for the Fed to flinch were grossly overblown—a unanimous vote clearly shows they’re all on the same page with the current state of the economy, and importantly they’ve essentially doubled down on their view that inflation is transitory, albeit at a higher rate than last time they met," said Mike Loewengart, managing director of investment strategy for E*Trade Financial. "But what happens next year becomes more of a question mark."

Markets dipped immediately following the statement, but recovered from session lows as investors digested the news.

The MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 45 nations, fell 2.39 points or 0.33%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 265.66 points, or 0.77%, the S&P 500 lost 22.89 points, or 0.54%, and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 33.17 points, or 0.24%.

TREASURIES, DOLLAR SURGE

The prospect of higher rates was felt in Treasury bonds and the dollar, which both jumped following the Fed statement.

The benchmark 10-year yield rose to its highest level since June 4 at 1.594%. It was last up 7.5 basis points at 1.5737%.

The five-year yield had its biggest one-day move since February, climbing to its highest level since April 6 at 0.913%.

The dollar index =USD, which tracks the greenback against six major currencies, was up 0.63% at 91.103, its highest since May 6.

Safe-haven gold prices took a hit on the Fed news, with spot gold falling 1.6% to $1, 829.16 per ounce. U.S. gold futures settled up 0.3% at $1, 861.40.

Oil prices posted gains for the fifth straight day on an anticipated surge in demand alongside falling crude inventories. Brent crude gained 40 cents, or 0.5%, to hit $74.39 a barrel, reaching its highest since April 2019, and running its gains to five straight days. U.S. crude rose 3 cents to $72.15, after reaching $72.99, highest since October 2018.

Meanwhile the three main Wall Street indexes all closed down on Wednesday, as U.S. Federal Reserve officials unnerved investors with indications that the central bank could begin rising interest rates in 2023, a year earlier than expected.

New projections saw a majority of 11 of 18 U.S. central bank officials pencil in at least two quarter-percentage-point rate increases for 2023. Officials also pledged to keep policy supportive for now to encourage an ongoing jobs recovery.

The Fed cited an improved economic outlook, with overall economic growth expected to hit 7% this year. Still, investors were surprised to learn officials were mulling rate hikes earlier than 2024.

"At first blush, the dot plot which projected two hikes by 2023 was more hawkish than expected, and markets reacted as such," said Daniel Ahn, chief U.S. economist at BNP Paribas.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury yield rose on the Fed news, while the dollar index, which tracks the greenback against six major currencies, rose to a six-week peak.

With inflation rising faster than expected and the economy bouncing back quickly, the market had been looking for clues of when the Fed may alter the policies put into place last year to combat the economic fallout from the pandemic, including a massive bond-buying program.

The Fed reiterated its promise to await "substantial further progress" before beginning to shift to policies tuned to a fully open economy. It also held its benchmark short-term interest rate near zero and said it will continue to buy $120 billion in bonds each month to fuel the economic recovery.

"Chair Powell has signaled, while the committee is not yet ready to taper, it is now in the minds of the committee. They've retired the phrase 'thinking about thinking about tapering', and we expect that in the next few meetings, the committee will likely formally start discussions of tapering," BNP's Ahn said.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 265.66 points, or 0.77%, to 34, 033.67, the S&P 500 lost 22.89 points, or 0.54%, to 4, 223.7 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 33.17 points, or 0.24%, to 14, 039.68.

Only two of the S&P's 11 main sector indexes ended in positive territory: consumer discretionary and retail.

The decliners were led by utilities, materials, and consumer staples.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 10.90 billion shares, compared with the 10.38 billion average over the last 20 trading days.

The S&P 500 posted 25 new 52-week highs and 1 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 95 new highs and 30 new lows.

- Reuters
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