U.S. stocks rose in afternoon trading on Wednesday after Federal Reserve Chairman Powell said the central bank’s pace of interest-rate increases can slow as soon as its December meeting, while investors digested a round of economic data, including a weaker-than-expected reading on private-sector payrolls and an upward revision to third-quarter economic growth.
How are stocks trading
- The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +1.10% gained 263 points, or 0.7%, at 34,094.
- The S&P 500 SPX, +1.92% rose 55 points, or 1.4%, to 4,013.
- The Nasdaq Composite COMP, +3.05% advanced 263 points, or 2.4%, to 11,248.
On Tuesday, the Dow eked out a gain of 3.07 points , the S&P 500 fell 0.2%, and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 0.6%.
What’s driving markets
U.S. equities were closing out the month on a mildly positive note as traders assessed a speech by Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell who indicated the central bank may decide to raise interest rates at a slower pace at its next policy meeting.
“The time for moderating the pace of rate increases may come as soon as the December meeting,” Powell said, in a speech to the Brookings Institution.
He said the ultimate level of the Fed’s benchmark rate would have to be higher than it was thought a few months ago, and he tried to keep any talk of rate cuts off the table.
“Powell needs to keep talking tough but he gave Wall Street reason for hope,” said David Russell, vice president of market intelligence at TradeStation Group. “Everyone knows rate hikes take time to operate and we’re seeing their effects as the labor market cools.”
“We’ve seen progress in CPI and even Powell expects more downward pressure as goods prices fall. Powell confirmed what the market already knew and set the stage for some adjustments to the projections next month. This could let investors view the glass as half full into year-end,” Russell said in an emailed comment.
Data released Wednesday morning showed job openings in the U.S. fell to 10.3 million in October in another sign the labor market is cooling off as the economy softens, but the cooling may not be enough to satisfy the Fed. Job listings declined from 10.7 million in September, the Labor Department said.
ADP on Wednesday said the private sector added 127,000 jobs in November. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal, on average, had looked for a rise of 190,000. In other data, third-quarter gross domestic product figures were revised to show a 2.9% annual rise versus an initial estimate of 2.6%.
The Fed’s Beige Book report is due at 2 p.m. Eastern.
The S&P 500 index, the U.S. equity benchmark, has lost 17% this year after the Fed swiftly raised borrowing costs from effectively zero in March to a range of 3.75% to 4% by November.
One of the Fed’s most closely watched inflation gauges, the personal-consumption expenditures index, will be published on Thursday, followed on Friday by the monthly employment report from the U.S. Labor Department.
Ipek Ozkardeskaya, senior analyst at Swissquote Bank, argued that whatever the upcoming raft of data showed it may be difficult for equities to gain much in the short term.
“Strong economic data, like strong growth and strong jobs means that the Fed will continue its aggressive tightening and could aim for relatively higher terminal rates. That’s bad for stock valuations. And soft inflation figures and softening spending are good for the Fed expectations, but they will boost recession odds, which is obviously not good for the stock valuations either,” she said in a morning bulletin.
“As a result, we have certainly hit a top in the latest S&P 500 rally, and the 200-day moving average, which stands around 4050, which also coincides with the year-to-date descending channel top, should mark the end of the latest bear rally, with the expectation of a further fall to potentially around the 3400 mark. I’m sorry,” Ozkardeskaya concluded.
Elsewhere overnight, markets in China continued to rebound after the protests against the country’s zero-COVID triggered a sharp sell-off Monday. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index HSI, +2.16% jumped 2.2% on Wednesday, booking a monthly gain of over 25%. It is the largest one month percentage gain since 1998, according to Dow Jones Market Data.
Despite fresh news of contracting China manufacturing, concerns about COVID restrictions in that country impacting the global economy appeared to have died down for now, allowing investors to refocus on the topic that has been driving stocks for much of the year: the Fed’s monetary policy trajectory.
Companies in focus
- Shares of Dow component Walt Disney Co. DIS, +2.13% fell 0.5% after the entertainment conglomerate said it expects its newly reappointed CEO Robert Iger to implement organizational and operating changes to address the board’s goal of boosting profitability, and that the moves could result in impairment charges.
- Crowdstrike Holdings Inc. CRWD, -16.22% fell 19.8% after the cybersecurity company said new subscriptions came in below expectations amid macro headwinds and longer customer buying cycles.
- Hormel Foods Corp. HRL, -3.38% shares dropped 4.8%, after the meat and food products company topped fiscal fourth-quarter profit forecasts but fell short on sales and provided a downbeat outlook.
- Biogen Inc. stock BIIB, +5.76% rose 3.6%, after a new study was unveiled late Tuesday that showed the company’s experimental Alzheimer’s drug being developed with Japan’s Eisai moderately reduced cognitive decline after a year and a half.
- Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co.’s HPE, +6.37% stock was up 4% after the company reported quarterly results in line with analysts’ estimates and offered strong revenue guidance.
- Some of the most popular Chinese stocks continue to rally on Wednesday. Shares of Alibaba Group BABA, +10.77% climbed 8.5%, while the search giant Baidu Inc. BIDU, +8.23% soared as much as 6.6%, and streaming video platform Bilibili Inc. BILI, +12.08% surged as much as 8.2%.
— Jamie Chisholm contributed to this article.