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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Wall St inches higher as investors focus on Fed minutes

U.S. stocks shed more than 2% on Tuesday after a rebound in business activity in February stoked fears of interest rates staying higher for longer.

Minutes from the Fed’s Jan. 31-Feb. 1 meeting, due at 2:00 p.m. ET, are expected to detail the breadth of debate at the central bank about the rate hike path.

“The obvious focus today is on the Fed minutes which would indicate that the inflation fight is still not over and that there are areas that are showing pockets of strength with the consumer still resilient,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities.

“We expect all indicators to point to the Fed remaining hawkish in its inflation fight.”

St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said the U.S. central bank needs to get inflation toward its 2% goal this year to avoid a repeat of the 1970s, when rates had to be repeatedly ratcheted up.

New York Fed President John Williams, a voting member of the rate-setting committee this year, is scheduled to speak later in the day.

Following a market rout in 2022, the three major indexes logged monthly gains in January as investors hoped the Fed would pause its rate hikes and perhaps pivot around the year-end.

However, stocks have had a volatile run in February as traders priced in higher interest rates for longer, considering inflation remains elevated in the face of a sturdy economy.

Money market participants expect rates to peak at 5.35% by July and stay around those levels till the end of 2023.

At 10:02 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 25.09 points, or 0.08%, at 33,154.68, the S&P 500 was up 1.41 points, or 0.04%, at 3,998.75, and the Nasdaq Composite was up 11.20 points, or 0.10%, at 11,503.50.

Six of the major S&P 500 sectors gained, with consumer discretionary stocks adding 0.4%.

A Reuters poll analysts expect the S&P 500 index to advance 5% by the end of the year, but high interest rates and inflation have led many strategists to predict a correction within the next three months.

Growth names like Tesla Inc, Nvidia Corp, Qualcomm Inc and Inc edged higher as the yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes slid from multi-month highs.

Palo Alto Networks Inc rose 11.9% after the cybersecurity company raised its annual profit forecast.

CoStar Group dropped 6.2% as the online real estate marketplace provider said it was no longer in talks to buy Move Inc from News Corp and forecast disappointing first-quarter revenue.

U.S.-listed shares of Baidu Inc advanced 3.4% on a fourth-quarter revenue beat and a new share repurchase plan.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 2.10-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and by a 1.47-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded three new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 13 new highs and 56 new lows.

Money market participants see the benchmark level peaking to a 5.3% in July, and staying near those levels throughout the year.

Adding to the glum mood, yield on the U.S. benchmark 10-year Treasury note edged higher, pressuring rate-sensitive growth stocks.

Apple Inc, Inc, Microsoft Corp and Google-parent Alphabet Inc fell between 1.6% and 1.6%.

In a bright spot, Meta Platforms Inc added 0.7% after the Facebook parent said it is testing a monthly subscription service called Meta Verified, which will let users verify their accounts using a government ID and get a blue badge.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 5.23-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and by a 3.50-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded one new 52-week highs and one new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 26 new highs and 50 new lows.

The S&P 500 now accurately reflects signs of better-than-expected economic growth and a drop in bond yields, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. strategists led by David Kostin. At the same time, higher valuations, lackluster corporate earnings and elevated interest rates mean there’s little room for the rally to extend, they said, a view that was broadly echoed by their counterpart at Morgan Stanley, Michael Wilson.

To Solita Marcelli at UBS Global Wealth Management, the risk-reward trade-off for equities doesn’t look appealing. She continues to recommend that equity investors position defensively and be prepared for additional volatility ahead.

“We remain bearish equities,” said Eric Johnston at Cantor Fitzgerald. “There has been a dramatic change in sentiment and positioning which has gotten much more bullish, making this a tailwind for our bearish view. And while this dramatic change has happened, the outlook for earnings, the Fed, and multiples is unchanged. All of the stock being bought now will just create that much more supply on the way down.”

Now with the path for further monetary tightening in focus, bond investors still broadly expect U.S. inflation to ebb further. The so-called breakeven rate on five-year five-year forwards — a proxy for inflation expectations — slumped to 2.18 per cent on Friday from 2.31 per cent a week prior. It was little changed Tuesday.

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