The major domestic equity indexes closed out the trading day on Wednesday in positive territory after the fed reaffirmed that the Fed would be “patient” with respect to further interest rate hikes. It also promised “before too long” a plan for their $4 trillion balance sheet, the minutes showed.
However, policymakers gave little sense of how long their “patient” stance on the U.S. rate policy would last, according to minutes from the Jan. 29-30 meeting, resulting in a bit of volatile afternoon activity.
The Fed surprised markets last month by suspending a three-year campaign to raise rates, saying it would be patient about making any adjustments to its target range for short-term interest rates, now at between 2.25 percent and 2.5 percent.
A dovish Fed and progress in U.S.-China trade negotiations have helped the S&P 500 rise about 18 percent from its lows in December, when the market swooned on fears of an economic slowdown. The S&P 500 index is trading about 5 percent below the record closing high it hit in late September.
The rate-sensitive S&P financial index added to gains following the release of the minutes and ended up 0.6 percent.
However, the S&P materials index, up 1.7 percent, led percentage gains among the major 11 S&P sectors, aided by gains in commodity prices. Shares of CF Industries Holdings Inc, Mosaic Co and FreeportMcMoran were higher on the day.
Southwest Airlines Co slipped 5.7 percent after the carrier said it would take a $60 million hit from the partial government shutdown. The carrier dragged down shares of other airlines, sending the Dow Jones airlines index down 2.6 percent.
Patience Is Key Word at Fed
The Federal Reserve on Wednesday signaled they will soon lay out a plan to stop letting go of $4 trillion in bonds and other assets, but policymakers are still debating how long their newly adopted “patient” stance on rates policy will last.
For now, policymakers see little risk to leaving interest rates alone while they take time to assess rising risks, including a global slowdown, according to the Fed’s minutes from their Jan. 29-30 meeting, released on Wednesday.
Though “several” participants thought a rate increase would be necessary only if inflation unexpectedly surged, “several other participants indicated that, if the economy evolved as they expected, they would view it as appropriate to raise the target range for the federal funds rate later this year.”
Those split views suggest that the central bank may not yet have ended its three-year campaign to raise interest rates but has merely put it on an extended pause. In January the Fed surprised markets by saying it would be patient about adjusting its target range for short-term interest rates, now between 2.25 percent and 2.5 percent.
The surprisingly dovish decision came amid mounting risks to the economy, including slowing Chinese and European economies and waning stimulus from the 2018 tax cuts.
A raft of Fed policymakers speaking since the Fed’s January pledge of patience have insisted the economy is in a good place.
Meanwhile, Fed policymakers do seem to have coalesced around a plan to leave their balance sheet permanently bigger than it ever was in the past, the minutes show.
“Almost all participants thought that it would be desirable to announce before too long a plan to stop reducing the Federal Reserve’s asset holdings later this year,” the minutes said.
The Fed absorbed government bonds and mortgages in the wake of the 2007-09 recession, but policymakers began trimming those holdings in the final months of 2017.
Research staff presented options at the meeting for “substantially slowing” the runoff of the Fed’s balance sheet, “at some point over the latter half of this year.” The runoff is currently capped at $50 billion a month.