Stocks slip after Federal Reserve leaves rates unchanged

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A choppy day of trading on Wall Street ended with stocks modestly lower Wednesday after the Federal Reserve said it is leaving its key interest rate unchanged while noting recent improvement in the economy.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index ended down 0.1% after wavering between small gains and losses. Gains in communication services, energy and financial companies outweighed declines in technology and healthcare stocks. Bond yields also fell broadly, pulling back after an early rally.

In its latest policy update, the nation’s central bank left its benchmark short-term rate near zero, where it has been since the pandemic erupted more than a year ago, to help keep loan rates down and encourage borrowing and spending. The Fed also said it would keep buying $120 billion in bonds each month to try to keep longer-term borrowing rates low.

“With no meaningful change to monetary policy or communication, this meeting was simply a message to market participants to sit back and observe as the economic recovery continues to unfold,” said Charlie Ripley, senior investment strategist for Allianz Investment Management.

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Stocks initially got a bump following the release of the Fed’s statement but shed those gains by the end of the day.

The S&P 500 slipped 3.54 points to 4,183.18. It had reached an all-time high Monday. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 164.55 points, or 0.5%, to 33,820.38. The tech-heavy Nasdaq fell 39.19 points, or 0.3%, to 14,051.03.

Smaller-company stocks fared better. The Russell 2000 index rose 2.89 points, or 0.1%, to 2,304.16.

Wall Street has been mostly grinding higher in recent weeks, pushing stock indexes to record highs, as the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations, the massive support from the U.S. government and the Fed, and a string of encouraging economic data fuel expectations for a stronger economy and solid corporate profit growth this year.

The expectations for a strong rebound — and rising prices for oil, lumber and other commodities — have also spurred concerns over inflation and the prospects for higher interest rates. Those worries have helped fuel a rapid rise in bond yields from where they were at the start of the year.

In its remarks, the Fed noted that the economy and job market have “strengthened.” And, although it acknowledged that inflation has risen, it said it sees the increase as transitory. Fed officials have said they want to see inflation exceed their 2% annual target before they’d consider raising rates.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which influences interest rates on mortgages and other consumer loans, eased after the Fed’s statement, slipping to 1.61% from Tuesday’s 1.62%.

The market welcomed the Fed’s decision to maintain its support for the economy and keep rates low, said Sylvia Jablonski, chief investment officer at Defiance ETFs.

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“We don’t expect a rate hike until 2023,” Jablonski said. “This, I believe, is almost ‘no news is good news’ for the market. Any rhetoric to act more quickly would have been an issue.”

Investors also focused Wednesday on corporate earnings, with dozens of companies reporting their quarterly results.

Shares of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, rose 3% after it said its profit doubled from a year earlier, helped by a surge in digital advertising revenue as more Americans shopped online during the pandemic. Visa rose 1.5% after reporting solid financial results.

Investors punished several companies that came up short with their most recent financial results. Boeing slipped 2.9%. Spotify sank 12.3% after the music streaming company announced that subscriber growth had slowed more than expected.

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Biotechnology company Amgen was among the biggest losers. It fell 7.2% after its first-quarter profit and revenue fell short of analysts’ forecasts.

Facebook‘s stock rose 5.5% in after-hours trading following the release of the company’s quarterly earnings report. Apple shares rose 3.3% in extended trading after the company’s profit soared in its latest quarter on higher iPhone sales.

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