Stocks sink as Powell dents hopes for multiple rate cuts
Washington – Stocks fell and bond yields rose on Wall Street Wednesday after the Federal Reserve lowered its key interest rate for the first time in a decade but left investors feeling uncertain about the likelihood of further cuts.
The quarter-point cut announced by the central bank was widely expected, so investors focused on Chairman Jerome Powell’s remarks during a news conference for hints about the Fed’s future plans.
Powell said that there could be more cuts, but that the central bank was not intending to embark on a long cycle of lowering interest rates. He characterized the rate cut as a “mid-cycle adjustment.”
The remarks sent stocks into a skid that briefly knocked the Dow Jones Industrial Average down more than 470 points. Prices of short-term U.S. government bonds fell, sending yields higher.
Stocks erased some of their losses later during Powell’s news conference, when he seemed to shift his message to leave open the possibility that the Fed would cut rates again.
“Clearly, the market is disappointed,” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial. “They wanted a more emphatic message from the Fed that this was in fact the beginning of a trend.”
The S&P 500 index dropped 32.80 points, or 1.1%, to 2,980.38. The benchmark index had its worst day in two months. It hit an all-time high just last Friday.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 333.75 points, or 1.2%, to 26,864.27. The Dow was briefly down 478 points.
The Nasdaq composite fell 98.19 points, or 1.2%, to 8,175.42. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies slid 10.99 points, or 0.7%, to 1,574.61.
Trading was muted for much of Wednesday until the Fed issued its interest rate policy statement at 2 p.m. Eastern Time. The rate cut was widely expected, so the market didn’t have much of an initial reaction. That changed swiftly as Powell spoke, casting doubt on the prospects for further rate cuts.
“The market was expecting a cut of 25 basis points with an actively dovish message, meaning there would be more rate cuts coming,” Krosby said. “But once he started to talk about the fact that this was a mid-cycle adjustment … the market always wants more.”
The Fed hopes the rate cut will counter threats to the U.S. economy ranging from uncertainties caused by the nation’s trade disputes to chronically low inflation and a dimming global growth outlook.
Fed officials had signaled in recent weeks their readiness to take action to help shore up the U.S. economy, which faces threats to growth from the prolonged trade war with China.
The central bank cut its benchmark rate by a quarter-point to a range of 2% to 2.25%. It’s the first rate cut since December 2008 during the depths of the Great Recession, when the Fed slashed its rate to a record low near zero and kept it there until 2015. After that, the Fed went on to make nine quarter-point rate increases from December 2015 to December 2018.
The economy is far healthier now than it was in 2008, despite risks to what’s become the longest expansion on record.
Traders have been betting the rate cut could help give the economy, and stock prices, a boost. It would help lower rates on consumer and business loans, which would encourage borrowing and possibly energize the economy.
Still, some on Wall Street had believed the Fed might act more aggressively in cutting rates by half a percentage point rather than the quarter-point cut it wound up making. Disappointment over that may have also put traders in a selling mood.
The Fed did release a statement that repeated a pledge to “act as appropriate to sustain the expansion,” wording that the financial markets have previously interpreted as a signal for possible future rate cuts.
The 10-year Treasury yield fell to 2.01% from 2.06% late Tuesday, a big move. The two-year yield, which is more influenced by the Fed’s movements, rose sharply to 1.86% from 1.83%.
Stocks have been mostly pulling back after setting records last week. Wednesday’s losses were widespread, with technology, health care and consumer-oriented companies accounting for much of the market’s late-afternoon tumble.
In addition to keeping an eye on the Fed, investors continued to pore through a heavy flow of corporate earnings.
Companies are about midway through the earnings reporting season, and results have generally been better than the dismal expectations that analysts had coming into it.
Apple rose 2% after beating Wall Street’s profit and revenue forecasts for the quarter while slamming the brakes on the decline of iPhone sales in China. Sales of the company’s best-known product are still sputtering, but the company has seen increasing revenue contributions from digital services, such as music.
Dine Brands Global, the owner of IHOP and Applebee’s, fell 5.1% after slashing its financial forecast for the year. The company cut forecasts for sales at existing Applebee’s and IHOP locations, along with overall profit, following a disappointing second quarter earnings report.
Molson Coors Brewing also slid 5.1% after the company reported a global decline in volume and sales during the second quarter that weighed down profit. The maker of Molson and Coors fell short of analysts’ profit and revenue forecasts.
Benchmark crude oil rose 53 cents to settle at $58.58 a barrel. Brent crude oil, the international standard, rose 45 cents to close at $65.17 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline was unchanged at $1.90 per gallon. Heating oil climbed 2 cents to $1.96 per gallon. Natural gas rose 9 cents to $2.23 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Gold fell $3.60 to $1,426 10 per ounce, silver fell 15 cents to $16.35 per ounce and copper fell 1 cent to $2.66 per pound.
The dollar rose to 108.77 Japanese yen from 108.60 yen on Tuesday. The euro weakened to $1.1085 from $1.1156.