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Wall Street rallies on hopes of Fed policy pause

Published 2023-03-23, 05:33 a/m
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., March 22, 2023.  REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Stephen Culp

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street advanced on Thursday as market participants looked past remarks by U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Wednesday and weighed the possibility that the central bank will pause its restrictive interest rate hikes in the near future.

All three indexes marked the three-year anniversary of the nadir of the COVID-19 crash by heading higher, with megacap growth stocks, led by Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Apple Inc (NASDAQ:AAPL), providing the most upside muscle and putting the tech-heavy Nasdaq out front.

"Today the market is bouncing back on what was a dovish Fed hike yesterday," said Ross Mayfield, investment strategy analyst at Baird in Louisville, Kentucky. "Powell did a good job sticking to the party line on inflation and continued to jawbone hawkish even though the hike leaned dovish."

"It’s not too crazy for markets to see that pivot in the near future," Mayfield added.

The risk-on session reversed Wednesday's late-session sell-off after the Fed's rate hike, Powell's subsequent Q&A session and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen's testimony before congress in which she ruled out blanket protection for all deposits.

In view of recent turmoil in the financial sector, which began with the failures of SVB Financial Group and Signature Bank, worries that the Fed was overtightening and pushing the economy perilously close to recession, Powell's reiterance of the Fed's determination to cool inflation sparked a late session flight to safety.

Jitters among regional banks persist, with the KBW Regional Bank index sliding 2.3%.

Comments from the Bank of England that inflation will probably quickly fade also helped fuel hopes of light at the end of the central bank tightening tunnel.

The BoE's commentary "paints a picture of a global central banking system that's ready to slow the pace of their hiking," Mayfield said.

But economic data released on Thursday showed jobless claims inching lower and new home sales posting a surprise gain, providing fresh evidence that the economy is yet to show the kind of softening that would lend itself to cooling inflation.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 142.01 points, or 0.44%, to 32,172.12, the S&P 500 gained 26.11 points, or 0.66%, to 3,963.08 and the Nasdaq Composite added 151.81 points, or 1.3%, to 11,821.77.

Among the 11 sectors of the S&P 500, communication services and tech led the percentage gainers.

First Republic Bank dropped 8.6% in volatile trading in the wake of Yellen's testimony.

Chipmaker Nvidia Corp advanced 2.2% after Needham raised its price target.

Block Inc shares slid 14.6% after Hindenburg Research disclosed its short positions in the company.

Crypto exchange Coinbase (NASDAQ:COIN) Global Inc dropped 14.0% in the wake of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's threat to sue the company.

Accenture (NYSE:ACN) surged 7.1% after it announced plans to cut about 2.5% of its workforce.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., March 22, 2023.  REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.11-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.13-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted four new 52-week highs and 14 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 45 new highs and 197 new lows.

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