The major domestic equity indexes closed out the trading day on Wednesday with small gains after minutes from the Federal Reserve’s latest meeting suggested higher inflation may not result in faster interest rate hikes.
Most Fed policymakers thought it likely another rate increase would be warranted “soon” if the economic outlook remains intact, and many participants saw little evidence of general overheating of the labor market, minutes of the central bank’s last policy meeting showed.
Stocks turned higher after the news, with rate-sensitive S&P 500 utilities and real estate sectors ending the day with the largest percentage gains. The financial sector index, which benefits from a rising rate environment, ended the day down 0.6 percent.
The central bank has lifted borrowing costs once so far this year, in March, and policymakers are currently about evenly split between those who expect two more rate rises this year and those who anticipate three. Investors overwhelmingly expect a rate rise at the next meeting on June 12-13.
Earlier in the day, comments by Trump that fueled further skepticism over trade talks between the United States and China weighed on the market.
Trump had signaled a new direction for the trade talks, saying the current track appeared “too hard to get done,” a day after telling reporters that he was not pleased with the recent talks.
Retailers were mixed, with Target down 5.7 percent after the retailer’s quarterly earnings number rose less than expected as price cuts, higher wages and investments into its online business hurt margins.
Tiffany rose 23.3 percent after the jeweler’s quarterly results blew past estimates and the company raised its full-year profit forecast and announced a $1 billion buyback program.
Ralph Lauren also did well, ending up 14.3 percent after the company’s higher margins helped deliver a solid profit that exceeded analysts’ estimates.
Lowe’s chalked up a gain of 10.4 percent after the company maintained its annual financial targets and billionaire investor Bill Ackman said his hedge fund had taken a roughly $1 billion stake in the company.
Approximately 6.4 billion shares changed hands on the major domestic equity exchanges, as compared to the 6.6 billion-share daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Crude Oil Down
Oil benchmarks fell on Wednesday after an unexpected build in U.S. crude and gasoline inventories despite strong demand, and as traders weighed the possibility of an increase in OPEC crude output to cover any shortfalls in supply from Iran and Venezuela.
According to a report by the Energy Information Administration, domestic crude inventories rose by 5.8 million barrels last week, while gasoline stocks increased by 1.9 million barrels.
Both builds were unexpected, Overall demand for refined products in the United States has kept refining activity buoyant, helping drain crude inventories in the world’s largest consuming nation.
The increase in domestic inventories came from a combination of reduced exports and rising imports; the latter is somewhat surprising because Brent crude is currently trading at a $7 premium to U.S. crude, thereby making exports more advantageous right now.
Brent crude futures were trading $1.08, or 1.4 percent, lower at $78.45 a barrel, while U.S. crude CLc1 lost 85 cents to $71.35 a barrel.
Oil prices have gained nearly 20 percent this year, with Brent briefly rising above $80, driven primarily by coordinated supply cuts by OPEC countries and partners including Russia.
OPEC may decide to raise oil output as soon as June due to worries over Iranian and Venezuelan supply and after Washington raised concerns the oil rally was going too far, OPEC and oil industry sources familiar with the discussions told Reuters.
The price has also been affected by rising geopolitical tensions that could dent global output just as demand is set to hit 100 million barrels per day in the final quarter of this year, according to the International Energy Agency.
In addition, the United States plans to reimpose sanctions on major oil producer Iran, while an economic crisis has decimated Venezuela’s crude output. With uncertainty over how sanctions might affect Iranian supply, fund managers have cut their holdings of crude futures and options by more than 10 percent in the last seven weeks to the lowest level this year.
Rising supply in the United States has limited the upward move in prices. U.S. crude output last week rose modestly to 10.7 million bpd, a record, keeping it in second place behind Russian production at 11 million bpd.
Fed Favors Rate Hike
Most Federal Reserve favor another interest rate increase soon if the economic outlook remains intact, minutes of the central bank’s last policy meeting showed.
The readout of the meeting, released on Wednesday afternoon, also included a call by some policymakers to revise the Fed’s monetary policy statement soon to reflect that rates would be close or above long-run estimates before too long.
Fed policymakers at the May 1-2 meeting decided, as expected, to keep the benchmark overnight lending rate unchanged in a target range of between 1.50 percent and 1.75 percent.
“Most participants judged that if incoming information broadly confirmed their current economic outlook, it would likely soon be appropriate … to take another step in removing policy accommodation,” the Fed said in the minutes.
Fed’s policymakers are currently about evenly split between those who expect two more rate rises this year and those who anticipate three. The Street expects a rate increase at the next meeting on June 12-13.
The Fed has been encouraged by continuing strength in the economy, viewing the Trump administration’s package of tax cuts as well as government spending as further boosting economic growth this year.
The U.S. unemployment rate is 3.9 percent, a 17-1/2-year low, while inflation is now effectively at the Fed’s 2 percent target after years of undershooting that level.
Several Fed policymakers, including Chairman Jerome Powell, have been keen to stress they will tolerate inflation rising above the Fed’s goal for a time without undue concern.
This was reflected in the policy statement earlier this month, with explicit reference made to the 2 percent target being “symmetric.”
According to the minutes, policymakers once again debated the inflation path. Several noted that recent wage data provided “little evidence” of overheating in the labor market, while some others saw a risk that “supply constraints would intensify upward wage and price pressures, or that financial imbalances could emerge.”
One source of concern at the Fed has been uncertainty over protectionist trade policies and their potential negative effects on the economy. In speeches, policymakers have repeatedly said they are monitoring the situation.
After weeks of escalating trade tensions between the United States and China, negotiators appear to have made progress toward a deal that for now has put on hold threatened tit-for-tat tariffs that raised fears of a global trade war.
The minutes showed a number of policymakers said U.S. trade policy raised a “particularly wide” range of risks for economic activity and inflation, and some said the uncertainty could hurt business spending.
Policymakers also discussed possible changes to future policy statements to reflect that rates are getting close to a neutral stance, estimated to be somewhere between 2.3 percent and 3.5 percent.
For years the Fed has described its policy as “accommodative.” Some policymakers at the last policy meeting said, “it might soon be appropriate to revise the forward-guidance language in the statement.”