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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Dow, S&P gain with bank rally countering rate worries

The Dow and the S&P 500 advanced on Thursday as bank shares rallied after major lenders cleared the Federal Reserve’s annual stress test, while strong economic data stoked expectations of further interest rate hikes from the central bank.

Stronger than expected economic data pushed Treasury yields higher and steered investors toward economically sensitive sectors as recession fears eased. But buyers shied away from some rate-sensitive growth sectors due to concerns the Fed would keep interest rates higher for longer.

After a health check showed that the biggest U.S. banks have enough capital to weather a severe economic slump the S&P 500 banks index closed up 2.6%. The relief rally also helped advance the KBW Regional Banking index by 1.8%.

Data showed an unexpected weekly decline in the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits, and the U.S. GDP increased at a 2.0% annualized rate in the first quarter, up from the 1.3% pace reported previously.

“The upside surprise economic data has pushed yields higher today and the move higher has put some downward pressure on technology and growth stock stocks while supporting value and cyclical parts of the market,” said Mona Mahajan, senior investment strategist at St. Louis based Edward Jones.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 269.76 points, or 0.8%, to 34,122.42, the S&P 500 gained 19.58 points, or 0.45%, to 4,396.44 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 0.42 points to 13,591.33.

The economically sensitive Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks rose 1.2% while the cyclical materials index finished up 1.3% and was the second strongest performer among the S&P 500’s 11 sectors behind financials, which gained 1.7% as banks rallied.

Economic strength fueled bets the U.S. central bank will maintain tight monetary policy for longer, a day after hawkish comments from Fed Chair Jerome Powell.

Traders were pricing in a roughly 86.8% chance the Fed would hike interest rates by 25 basis points to the 5.25%-5.50% range at its July meeting, according to CME Group’s Fedwatch tool, up from bets for 81.8% probability a day earlier.

The Fed’s preferred inflation gauge, the Personal Consumption Expenditure index (PCE) for May, will be released on Friday. Economists polled by Reuters expect core rates to remain steady at 4.7%.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq was still on track for a gain of more than 29% in the first half of the year, its biggest such gain in 40 years. On Thursday it managed to pare losses and close barely lower but was under pressure throughout the day from losses in megacaps including Amazon, Meta Platform, Nvidia and Microsoft.

The Philadelphia semiconductor index managed a small 0.13% gain but underpeformed during the session, with a 4% decline in Micron Technology shares leading losses even though the chipmaker beat estimates for third-quarter results.

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