The major equity indexes were modestly higher at the close on Wednesday after the Federal Reserve kept interest rates unchanged. In addition, there were strong earnings reports from Boeing and AT&T.
The Fed’s statement did not dramatically sway Wall Street’s major indexes, which hit all-time peaks on a busy day of corporate earnings reports. A slide in financial shares held back gains for the S&P 500.
As broadly expected by investors, the Fed maintained its benchmark lending rate and said it was continuing the slow path of monetary tightening. It said it expected to start winding down its massive holdings of bonds “relatively soon” in a sign of confidence in the U.S. economy.
In its statement following a two-day policy meeting, the Fed’s rate-setting committee indicated the economy was growing moderately and job gains had been solid. But it noted that both overall inflation and a measure of underlying price gains had declined and said it would “carefully monitor” price trends.
The financial sector, which tends to perform better when interest rates rise, ended down 0.6 percent. Telecommunications was the best performing sector, propelled higher by a 5.0-percent gain in AT&T after it posted quarterly earnings.
Boeing rose 9.9 percent after the company posted quarterly earnings and cash flow well ahead of Street estimates. The stock gave the best lift to the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500.
Shares of Ford and health insurer Anthem fell after their respective quarterly results.
With about one-third of the S&P 500 having reported results, earnings are now expected to have climbed 9.9 percent in the second quarter, up from a projection of an 8-percent rise at the start of the month, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Approximately 6.6 billion shares changed hands on the major domestic equity exchanges, a number that was above the 6.1 billion share daily average over the last 20 sessions.
New Home Sales Rise
New single-family home sales increased in June as purchases in the West surged to a near 10-year high, but downward revisions to the sales pace for the prior three months pointed to a housing market that is struggling to gain momentum.
New home sales slowed in the second quarter compared to the first three months of the year. The housing market is being hampered by a dire shortage of properties, which is keeping home prices elevated and sidelining first-time buyers.
The Commerce Department said on Wednesday new home sales gained 0.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 610,000 units last month. The sales pace for March, April and May was revised lower.
New single-family homes sales in the West soared 12.5 percent to their highest level since July 2007. They jumped 10.0 percent in the Midwest, but fell 6.1 percent in the South. Sales were unchanged in the Northeast.
New home sales, which constitute 10 percent of overall home sales, rose 9.1 percent on a year-on-year basis. They remain less than half of what they were at the peak of the housing market bubble in 2005.
The slowdown in sales in the second quarter suggests housing was likely a drag on gross domestic product during that period. The sector added almost half a percentage point to the economy’s annualized 1.4 percent growth pace in the first quarter.
The cool-off in housing reflects constraints on supply, rather than demand, amid a strong labor market, which is near full employment. Builders are struggling to keep up with demand amid rising lumber costs and shortages of labor and land.
Housing starts are running at a 1.22 million-unit pace. That is below their historic average of 1.5 million units, a rate that would eliminate the housing shortage.
Approximately 70 percent of new homes sold in June were either yet to be built or under construction, highlighting the demand and supply imbalance.
With homebuilder confidence dropping to an eight-month low in July, the supply of houses is unlikely to improve.
A separate report on Wednesday from the Mortgage Bankers Association showed applications for loans to purchase a home fell 2 percent last week from one week earlier to the lowest level since May.
In June, the inventory of new homes on the market increased 1.1 percent to 272,000 units, the highest level since June 2009. Still, new housing stock is less than half of what it was at its peak during the housing boom. Economists say builders have been concentrating on the construction of expensive homes.
At June’s sales pace, it would take 5.4 months to clear the supply of houses on the market, up from 5.3 months in May. A six-month supply is viewed as a healthy balance between supply and demand.
Fed Leaves Rates Unchanged
After its two-day meeting concluded, the Federal Reserve announced that it was keeping interest rates unchanged. It also said it expected to start winding down its massive holdings of bonds “relatively soon” in a sign of confidence in the economy.
The Fed kept its benchmark lending rate in a target range of 1.00 percent to 1.25 percent, as expected, and said it was on track to continue the slow path of monetary tightening that has lifted rates by a percentage point since 2015.
In a statement, the Fed said the economy was growing moderately and job gains had been solid. It also noted that both overall inflation and a measure of underlying price gains had declined – trends which have worried some policymakers – but that it expected the economy to continue strengthening.
“The committee expects to begin implementing its balance sheet normalization program relatively soon,” the Fed said, adding that it would follow a plan outlined in June to trim its holdings of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities.
The statement cemented expectations the Fed will announce at its next policy meeting in September the start of its balance sheet reduction plan, marking the end of a controversial tool that drew criticism from Republican lawmakers in Congress.
While Fed researchers have concluded that bond buying only modestly boosted the economy, Yellen has said the central bank could turn to asset purchases again if the economy fell into a deep rut.
At the same time, a slowdown in inflation has caused jitters among some Fed officials who are concerned inflation has been below the central bank’s 2 percent target for five years.
The Fed’s preferred measure of underlying inflation dropped to 1.4 percent in May from 1.8 percent in February. The Fed had described inflation as being “somewhat” below target in its policy statement in June, but on Wednesday it simply stated that it was below 2 percent.
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