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Stocks Jump After Fed Indicates Patience on Rate Increases

The midafternoon Fed announcement added to early gains as traders welcomed positive results

Stocks powered higher Wednesday after the Federal Reserve signaled it could hold off on interest rate increases in the coming months, citing muted inflation.

The Fed's announcement allays one of the biggest concerns for investors: That the economy, and corporate profits, could be hurt if the Fed continued to steadily increase interest rates after raising them four times last year.

"The Fed gave the market everything it wanted in terms of a dovish message," said Willie Delwiche, investment strategist at Baird. "Now it's saying maybe there will be rate hikes, maybe there won't be."

Technology companies drove the broad rally, which snapped the market's two-day losing streak. The benchmark S&P 500 index is now track to end January with its biggest monthly gain in more than three years, and the gains pushed the Dow Jones Industrial Average above 25,000 points for the first time since early December.

The midafternoon Fed announcement added to early gains as traders welcomed positive results and outlooks from several big companies including Boeing.

The aerospace giant soared after blowing away analysts' forecasts for earnings and as its annual revenue topped $100 billion for the first time. The gain in Boeing's stock accounted for about a third of the 434-point gain in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

The S&P 500 index rose 41.05 points, or 1.6 percent, to 2,681.05. The Dow gained 434.90 points, or 1.8 percent, to 25,014.86.

The Nasdaq composite climbed 154.79 points, or 2.2 percent, to 7,183.08. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies picked up 15.49 points, or 1.1 percent, to 1,486.94. The Russell is up more than 10 percent this month.

Jitters over the ongoing U.S.-China trade conflict, uncertainty over the path of interest rates and signs of a weakening global economy helped knock the market into a steep slump in December that left the S&P 500 index 9.2 percent lower for the month. The market has since rebounded, with the index is now on track to end January with a 7 percent gain. That would be the biggest monthly increase since October 2015.

While concerns over trade and the health of the global economy remain, the Fed further signaled a shift in its stance from December, when it indicated additional rate hikes were likely in 2019.

"Stocks are certainly celebrating an increasingly friendly message from the Fed," Delwiche said. "It's not just a more measured pace in rate hikes, but it's questioning whether or not there will be additional rate hikes."

With pressures on the U.S. economy rising — a global slowdown, a trade war with China, a nervous stock market — the Fed signaled Wednesday that it is in no hurry to resume raising interest rates. And with inflation remaining tame, the rationale to tighten credit has become less compelling.

"The situation calls for patience," Chairman Jerome Powell said at a news conference. "We have the luxury to be patient."

The Fed's benchmark short-term rate will remain in a range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent after having been raised four times last year. The central bank also said it is prepared to slow the reduction of its bond holdings if needed to support the economy. That would put downward pressure on long-term interest rates such as mortgages.

Stocks opened with a rally as investors welcomed some encouraging corporate earnings reports.

Boeing surged 6.3 percent to $387.72 after the company delivered more planes and racked up a significant amount of government contracts during the fourth quarter. Revenue surged 14 percent as the company delivered more commercial and military planes. Profit and revenue topped expectations.

Apple rose 6.8 percent to $165.25 after traders brushed off a slide in iPhone sales. The technology giant's latest results met Wall Street's diminished expectations.

Anthem, the nation's second-largest health insurer, soared 9.1 percent to $297.56 on an upbeat forecast for 2019.

Corporate earnings have so far been holding up in the face of the global slowdown and trade conflicts. So far, roughly a quarter of the companies in the S&P 500 have reported results for the final three months of 2018. Of those, some 77 percent delivered earnings growth that topped Wall Street's expectations. Some, though, are lowering expectations for 2019.

Trade talks opened Wednesday between the U.S. and China and will loom over the market for the remainder of the week. The high-level talks are aimed at settling a monthslong trade war that has raised fears of slower economic growth. Industrial and technology companies have warned about slowing sales because of the trade impasse.

U.S. crude oil rose 1.7 percent to settle at $54.23 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 0.5 percent to close at $61.65 per barrel in London.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 2.67 percent from 2.71 percent late Tuesday.

The dollar weakened to 108.92 yen from 109.28 yen on Tuesday. The euro rose against the dollar to $1.1492 from $1.1427.

Gold rose 0.1 percent to $1,309.90 an ounce. Silver added 0.6 percent to $15.93 an ounce. Copper gained 1.6 percent to $2.77 a pound.

In other energy futures trading, wholesale gasoline rose 2.3 percent to $1.38 a gallon. Heating oil was little changed at $1.90 a gallon. Natural gas fell 1.7 percent to $2.85 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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