U.S. stocks edge lower as investors weigh earnings, await Fed

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U.S. stocks were mostly lower Wednesday midday as investors awaited the conclusion of a Federal Reserve policy meeting and continued to sift through quarterly results from technology heavyweights.

Also, President Joe Biden is expected Wednesday night to unveil a $1.8 trillion package of new spending and tax cuts aimed at bolstering children and families.

What are major indexes doing?
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.33% fell 120 points, or 0.4%, to 33,863.
  • The S&P 500 SPX, +0.07% bobbed up and down between positive to negative territory, up about 1 point at last check at 4,188.
  • The Nasdaq Composite COMP, -0.09% shed about 26 points, or almost 0.2%, at 14,065.

On Tuesday, major benchmarks were largely in a holding pattern, with the Dow DJIA, -0.33% posting a gain of 3.36 points, or less than 0.1%, at 33,984.93, while the S&P 500 SPX, +0.07% shed less than 0.1% and the Nasdaq Composite COMP, -0.09% gave up 0.3%.

What’s driving the market?

Stocks have struggled for direction this week, with benchmark indexes trading near all-time highs, despite strong earnings and economic data as investors assess how much good news is already factored into the market.

The Fed is expected to leave policy unchanged as it concludes a two-day policy meeting. While the central bank and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell are expected to acknowledge a strengthening economy, policy makers also are expected to remain committed to keeping policy settings loose.

Market participants, however, “are ready to pounce on even the slightest hint of policy normalization amid an economic recovery that is gaining more and more traction,” said Han Tan, market analyst at FXTM, in a note. “As long as the Fed leaves policy settings the way they are at present, U.S. stocks are still more likely to climb to fresh peaks.”

Read: Debt markets getting the memo on the path of likely Fed rate hikes

The Fed will release its policy statement at 2 p.m. Eastern, with Powell’s news conference set to begin at 2:30 p.m.

Need to Know: The Fed is standing aside as house prices rip higher — but here’s what could get in the way

Largely positive results rolled in from a number of major tech companies and other corporate heavyweights late Tuesday and Wednesday, with more to come as one of the busiest weeks of earnings season continues.

Biden, in an address to a joint session of Congress, is set to detail a plan that would see new spending on education, child care, and paid leave, while extending some tax breaks.

Read: Biden to lay out $1.8 trillion family spending plan that calls for capital-gains tax hike

To partly pay for the plan, Biden will propose raising the top tax rate on the wealthiest Americans to 39.6% from 37% and would raise the tax rate on capital gains for people earning more than $1 million a year to 39.6% from 20%. The tax changes are forecast to raise $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

“There’s a lot coming all at once” for the market to absorb, including earnings, taxes and government spending plans, Joshua Wein, a portfolio manager with Hennessy Funds, said in a phone interview Wednesday. He said aerospace giant Boeing Co. BA, -2.67% is among the companies weighing on the Dow, after the plane maker reported a larger-than-expected loss. Shares of Amgen Inc. and Microsoft Corp. also contributed to the blue-chip gauge’s intraday decline.

In economic news, the U.S. trade deficit in goods rose in March for a third straight month, hitting another record high. The advanced trade gap in goods climbed 4% to $90.6 billion in March, the U.S. Census Bureau said Wednesday.

Which companies are in focus?
What are other markets doing?
  • The yield on the 10-year Treasury note BX:TMUBMUSD10Y rose 2 basis points to 1.63%. Yields and bond prices move in opposite directions.
  • The ICE U.S. Dollar Index DXY, -0.04%, a measure of the currency against a basket of six major rivals, was down 0.1%.
  • Oil futures moved higher, with the U.S. benchmark CL00, +1.80% up 1.8% Gold futures GC00, -0.25% moved lower, falling 0.2% to $1,775.40 an ounce.
  • In global equity trading, the Stoxx Europe 600 index SXXP, +0.02% was little changed, while London’s FTSE 100 UKX, +0.27% gained 0.3%. The Shanghai Composite SHCOMP, +0.42% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index HSI, +0.45% each rose 0.45%, while Japan’s Nikkei 225 NIK, +0.21% gained 0.2%.

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