Technology companies led a broad rally for stocks on Wall Street on Wednesday as investors welcomed another interest rate increase by the Federal Reserve as a sign the central bank is ratcheting up its campaign to fight surging inflation.
In a widely expected move, the central bank raised its key interest rate by three-quarters of a point, lifting the rate to the highest level since 2018.
At a news conference, Chair Jerome H. Powell suggested the Fed’s rate hikes have already had some success in slowing the economy and possibly easing inflationary pressures. Some on Wall Street saw that as a signal the Fed may not have to raise rates as aggressively in coming months, triggering a rally in the final hour of regular trading.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 index climbed 2.6%, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite surged 4.1%, its biggest gain in more than two years. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 1.4%. Smaller-company stocks also gained, lifting the Russell 2000 2.4%.
Bond yields turned broadly lower after the Fed’s announcement. The two-year Treasury yield, which tends to move with expectations for the Fed, fell to 2.98% from 3.06% late Tuesday. The 10-year yield, which influences mortgage rates, fell to 2.77% from 2.79%.
Rate increases such as Wednesday’s, the fourth so far this year, make borrowing more expensive and slow the economy. The hope is that the Fed and other central banks can deftly find the middle ground where the economy slows enough to whip inflation but not enough to cause a recession.
“The Fed raised rates by the expected 75 basis points but recognized that the economy is softening while the job market remains strong,” said Jay Hatfield, chief executive of Infrastructure Capital Advisors. “The statement is slightly dovish and is bolstering the tech-led stock rally that started this morning.”
Some Wall Street analysts were less optimistic that the Fed may opt for more moderate rate increases from here, especially because inflation has accelerated to 9.1%, the fastest annual pace in 41 years.
Charlie Ripley, senior investment strategist at Allianz Investment Management, called the increase “warranted.”
“That being said, recent economic data is now introducing a higher degree of uncertainty around the policy path as we move forward from here,” Ripley said.
In a note Wednesday, analysts at Citi said that although Powell mentioned that a slowdown in rate increases would be appropriate at some point, exactly when that might be remains undetermined. They said they “would not view this as a particularly dovish comment.”
“We continue to expect core inflation to push the Fed to hike more aggressively than they or markets anticipate,” the analysts wrote, noting they expect the Fed will announce another three-quarter-point increase at its September policy meeting, with further rate increases continuing into early 2023.
The S&P 500 rose 102.56 points to 4,023.61. The Dow gained 436.05 points to close at 32,197.59. The Nasdaq rose 469.85 points to 12,032.42, and the Russell 2000 picked up 43.09 points to end at 1,848.34. The indexes are now all on pace for a weekly gain, extending Wall Street’s strong July rally. The S&P 500 is up 6.3% so far this month.
It’s not uncommon for stocks to rally when the Fed issues a new interest rate policy statement, only to sink the next day.
Stocks have been choppy this week after solid gains last week that were mainly fueled by better-than-expected reports on corporate profits.
Inflation remains at the forefront of investors’ minds, however. Markets were spooked Monday after retail giant Walmart warned that its earnings are being hurt by rising prices for food and gas, which are forcing shoppers to cut back on more profitable discretionary items such as clothing.
The retailer’s profit warning in the middle of the quarter was rare and raised concerns about how the highest inflation in 40 years is affecting the entire retail sector.
Meanwhile, some parts of the economy, particularly the housing industry, are already slowing because the Fed has raised rates. Sales of previously occupied US homes slowed in June for the fifth month in a row as mortgage rates have climbed sharply this year. Expectations of higher overall rates have pushed up the 10-year Treasury yield, which influences rates on home loans.
Investors kept an eye on the latest batch of corporate earnings reports Wednesday, including strong earnings from Microsoft and Google parent Alphabet.
Microsoft and Alphabet rose 6.7% and 7.7%, respectively, after their latest quarterly reports. Boeing rose 0.1% after the aerospace company reported it delivered more plans in the first quarter than it has since the start of the pandemic.
Technology and communication services stocks accounted for a large share of the S&P 500’s gains. Nvidia rose 7.6% and Netflix added 6%.
Retailers, restaurant chains and other companies that rely on direct consumer spending also helped lift the market. Chipotle Mexican Grill jumped 14.7% after the restaurant chain reported second-quarter earnings that beat analysts’ forecasts.
Spotify Technology vaulted 12.2% after the music streaming service reported monthly active user and premium subscriber numbers that exceeded expectations.