The major domestic equity indexes were lower on Wednesday as potential restrictions by the United States on Chinese telecom companies reinforced the Street’s concerns regarding worsening trade relations between the United States and China.
Wall Street’s major indexes had briefly moved higher after the Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged in its policy announcement on Wednesday but gave up gains as the session progressed.
Stocks slid even further on the news that the White House is considering issuing an executive order restricting certain Chinese companies from selling telecommunications equipment in the United States.
Trade relations between the United States and China have already been strained as Trump has weighed imposing tariffs on up to $150 billion of Chinese imports. A White House delegation is scheduled to visit Beijing on Thursday and Friday for talks with top Chinese officials.
The specter of deteriorating U.S.-China trade relations has weighed on Wall Street over the past few weeks.
The Federal Open Market Committee’s unanimous decision to keep its lending rate in a target range of between 1.50 percent and 1.75 percent offered fleeting relief to investors.
The Fed expressed a confident economic outlook, saying activity had expanded at a moderate rate and that inflation was close to its 2 percent target. It is expected to increase rates in June.
Snap shares fell 21.9 percent after the Snapchat owner fell short of Wall Street forecasts for revenue and regular users.
PayPal ended the trading day down 4.1 percent after Bloomberg reported that Amazon is offering retailers discounts to adopt its payment system.
Biotechnology stocks also took a hit as shares of Gilead Sciences closed out the trading day down 7.8 percent due to lower quarterly earnings on falling sales of its flagship hepatitis C drugs.
Shares of insurers MetLife Inc, American International Group and Prudential Financial fell after disability insurance provider Unum Group reported a lower-than-expected profit. Unum shares fell 17.0 percent.
On the other end of the spectrum, Apple rose 4.4 percent after the company late Tuesday posted resilient iPhone sales in the face of waning global demand and promised $100 billion in additional stock buybacks.
Optics firm Lumentum Holdings, an Apple supplier, was up 11.1 percent after reporting quarterly results earlier on Wednesday. Mastercard Inc rose 3.1 percent after it reported a better-than-expected quarterly earnings, helped out by higher consumer spending on credit and debit cards.
Approximately 7.27 billion shares changed hands on the major domestic equity exchanges, as compared to the 6.55 billion-share average over the past 20 trading days.
Interest Rates Unchanged
The Federal Reserve kept interest rates unchanged on Wednesday and expressed confidence that a recent rise in inflation to near the Fed’s target would be sustained, leaving it on track to raise borrowing costs in June.
The upgrading of the Fed’s inflation outlook represented a milestone after roughly six years of price gains falling short of its 2 percent goal, even as key aspects of the economy saw a healthy recovery from the 2007-2009 recession.
The Fed’s rate-setting committee also downplayed a recent slowdown in economic and job growth, saying activity had been expanding at a moderate rate and job gains, on average, had been strong in recent months.
It said inflation had “moved close” to its target and that “on a 12-month basis is expected to run near the Committee’s symmetric 2 percent objective over the medium term.”
The Fed’s decision to leave its benchmark overnight lending rate in a target range of between 1.50 percent and 1.75 percent was unanimous.
The Fed is currently forecasting another two increases this year, although an increasing number of policymakers see three as possible. The financial markets overwhelmingly expect a rate hike at the June 12-13 policy meeting.
The Fed’s confidence in the economic outlook was also highlighted by its assertion that business fixed investment had continued to grow strongly. It added that risks to the outlook appear roughly balanced, removing a prior reference to “near-term risks.”
Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has maintained that the central bank will pursue a middle-of-the-road approach to monetary policy, continuing to gradually lift rates in the face of a robust economy that had yet to spark a jump in inflation.
However, data released on Monday showed price gains are now effectively at the Fed’s target. According to the Commerce Department, the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation rose 1.9 percent in the 12 months through March, the largest increase since February 2017, after increasing 1.6 percent in the year through February.
Fed policymakers had anticipated the rise and have stressed that their target is not a ceiling and that they will tolerate increases above it without being immediately concerned.
The Fed’s pace of rate increases has picked up since it began its tightening cycle in December 2015. It raised rates once in 2016 but lifted borrowing costs three times last year amid a strengthening economy and labor market.
Although economic growth slowed to an annualized rate of 2.3 percent in the first quarter, a period that has tended to be weaker in recent years, and job gains cooled in March, a pickup is expected in the months ahead, fueled in part by the tax cuts and fiscal stimulus.
The economy is now in its second-longest expansion since World War Two. The unemployment rate is at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent, below the Fed’s longer-run estimate of what constitutes full employment, and there are signs wages are moving firmly higher after an extended period of sluggishness.
The Fed’s policy statement made no mention of the economic risks posed by mounting trade tensions between the United States and other nations, particularly China. Fed policymakers had flagged the potential negative impact of the conflict in recent public comments but adopted a wait-and-see attitude.