The major equity indexes were slightly higher on Friday, lifted by high-dividend-paying stocks, after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen stayed silent on monetary policy in a much-anticipated speech.
Interest-rate sensitive sectors such as telecommunications rose 0.8 percent, and utilities were up 0.3 percent, as Yellen’s speech did not comment on the path of interest rate hikes for the central bank, which sent U.S. Treasury yields lower.
Yellen’s speech at the annual meeting of central bankers in Jackson Hole focused on financial stability while giving no hint on monetary policy, leaving the prospect of more interest rate hikes up in the air.
She said the reforms put in place after the 2007-2009 financial crisis have strengthened the financial system, without impeding economic growth.
Meanwhile, a speech by European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi gave little guidance on tapering the bank’s bond holdings and heralded globalization over protectionism.
For the week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.65 percent, the S&P 500 was up 0.72 percent and the Nasdaq gained 0.79 percent. The weekly gains for equities snapped a two-week skid of declines for the Dow and S&P 500 and a four-week drop for the Nasdaq.
The equity markets got off to a strong start after President Donald Trump’s chief economic adviser Gary Cohn said the White House would turn its attention to the long-awaited tax reform agenda next week.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the debt ceiling, a hurdle to be crossed before any tax reform can take place, will be raised in September and that after talks with congressional leaders from both parties everyone is “on the same page.”
Broadcom’s shares were down 3.7 percent after its quarterly earnings report weighed the most on the S&P 500 technology index as well as the Nasdaq and S&P.
Energy shares, up 0.52 percent, also advanced on a climb in oil prices as major Hurricane Harvey drew closer to the Texas Gulf Coast.
Shares of Autodesk chalked up a gain of 3.9 percent after the software maker raised its forecast.
Approximately 4.81 billion shares changed hands on the major domestic equity exchanges, a number that was well below the 6.02 billion share daily average over the last 20 trading sessions.
Yellen Makes Her Position Clear
Janet Yellen made it clear that if President Trump re-nominates her as Federal Reserve chair she will not turn her back on the many financial reforms that Republicans want to roll back. Her speech to the world’s top central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, comes at a time when the chaos at the White House may make it more likely that she would be appointed to serve another four years to head the U.S. central bank.
Yellen, whose term ends in February, warned that “for some” memories of the 2007-2009 financial crisis may be fading, and she said that only “modest” adjustments could be made to regulations meant to protect the economy from runs on banks and other financial panics.
President Trump and congressional Republicans say many of the Obama-era rules go too far in choking off credit and burdening firms with unnecessary compliance.
Yet with Trump’s regulatory, tax and infrastructure policy plans so far delayed, and the White House struggling to fill several key posts, Yellen, a Democrat, may represent the President’s best shot at ensuring stability at an institution critical to running the economy smoothly.
While Trump may disagree with Yellen’s big-government stance on regulatory policy, he is more aligned with her track record of keeping rates low to get Americans back to work. In addition, she said she was open to some of the key changes that the administration, and its nominee as Fed vice chair for regulation, Randal Quarles, want to pursue.
Along with her standing among economists and market participants, Yellen has a public lobby as well. Demonstrators here held a rally outside the conference donning wigs fashioned after Yellen’s hairstyle. The organizers, the Fed Up Coalition that has criticized the central bank’s recent interest-rate hikes, want Trump to stick with Yellen.
The Fed chair has not said explicitly whether she would be open to another term, a question that has taken on added interest following intense criticism of Trump’s response to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Yellen, 71, is Jewish, and her image was included in a Trump campaign ad shortly before the election criticized as anti-Semitic.
But Yellen may come under increased pressure from liberals to accept if nominated, as the Fed is an independent agency and is not viewed as being part of the presidential administration.
“Janet Yellen is a patriot,” said Gene Sperling, who was director of the National Economic Council under former President Barack Obama, who appointed her.
“She would feel a patriotic duty to stay on if asked, even if from a personal level she was ready for a break … she would feel an obligation to serve.”
Along with academic economists, Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs president who is now Trump’s chief economic advisor, is considered a top contender for the job.
Yellen’s familiarity among investors may be welcome to a White House facing an acrimonious political battle to avoid a debt ceiling deadline next month, and still reeling from criticism over its response to Charlottesville.
Reports emerged Friday that Cohn had drafted a letter of resignation over the latter incident, but decided to stay on the job.
Trump, who praised Yellen after his election for keeping interest rates low, has said he probably won’t make the decision about the Fed chair until late in the year. That time frame has struck many Fed officials as coming late to the party given the need for Senate confirmation and the possibility of a negative market reaction.
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