The major equity indexes ended the trading day on Wednesday slightly higher but off the day’s highs as worries mounted over President Donald Trump’s agenda. Adding to the day’s concerns were the minutes from the latest Federal Reserve meeting, which suggested the Fed remains worried about weak inflation. Some members called for a halt to further interest rate hikes until it was clear the trend was transitory.
Indexes lost some ground following Trump’s disbanding of two high-profile business advisory councils after two more CEOs resigned from the manufacturing council on Wednesday in response to his comments on weekend violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Investors have been watching a slide in inflation readings in recent months, which remain below the Fed’s 2 percent target. Fed policymakers unanimously decided to keep interest rates unchanged at their July 25-26 meeting.
The S&P materials index rose the most of any sector, gaining 0.9 percent, following gains in copper and other metals.
After the bell, shares of Cisco fell 2.3 percent after it reported results.
Approximately 5.8 billion shares changed hands on the major domestic equity exchanges, a number that was less than the 6.3 billion share daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Lack of Inflation Remains a Worry for the Fed
Federal Reserve policymakers appeared increasingly wary about recent weak inflation and some called for halting interest rate hikes until it was clear the trend was transitory, according to the minutes of the Fed’s last policy meeting.
The readout of the July 25-26 meeting, released on Wednesday, also indicated the Fed was poised to begin reducing its $4.2 trillion portfolio of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities.
Last month’s meeting, which concluded with a unanimous decision to leave rates unchanged, was marked by a lengthy discussion about the recent soft inflation readings, the minutes showed.
The central bank’s preferred inflation measure dropped to 1.5 percent in June from 1.8 percent in February and has remained below its 2 percent target for more than five years.
“Many participants … saw some likelihood that inflation might remain below 2 percent for longer than they currently expected, and several indicated that the risks to the inflation outlook could be tilted to the downside,” the Fed said in the minutes.
The inflation retreat has spurred concerns the Fed may have to cool its monetary tightening pace even though the economy is growing moderately and the unemployment rate fell to 4.3 percent in July, matching a 16-year low touched in May.
The Fed has raised its benchmark overnight lending rate twice this year and forecasts one more rise before the end of 2017.
Some policymakers argued last month against future rate rises until there was more concrete evidence that inflation was moving back toward the Fed’s objective, according to the minutes.
Others, however, cautioned that such a delay could cause an eventual overshooting in inflation given a tightening labor market “that would likely be costly to reverse.”
In an interview with Reuters on Wednesday, Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester said, “I’m not one who would like to see inflation be at 2 percent before we continue on the path” of rate hikes because policy affects the economy with a lag.
“On the other hand, we do have to consider that we have had weak readings on inflation,” Mester said.
Senior Fed officials have largely dismissed the inflation softness as temporary. Fed Chair Janet Yellen said last month that special factors, including price drops for mobile phone plans and prescription drugs, were partly responsible.
Voting members of the Fed’ rate-setting committee agreed to monitor inflation closely in light of the concerns, with a few policymakers cautioning that the central bank’s framework for analyzing inflation was “not particularly useful,” according to the minutes.
Fed policymakers at last month’s meeting also cast a keener light on financial stability and agreed it was important to look for signs of declining market volatility or concentration of investors assets.
Elsewhere in the minutes, Fed officials reinforced expectations of an announcement in September to begin reducing the central bank’s holdings of bonds that were bought in the wake of the 2007-2009 financial crisis and recession.
Several policymakers were prepared to announce a start date last month, but the Fed decided to wait as “most preferred to defer that decision until an upcoming meeting.”
Fed officials have been priming markets for a probable move at their next policy meeting on Sept. 19-20.
New York Fed President William Dudley said on Monday the expectation of such an announcement next month was not unreasonable.
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