April 22nd, 2024

Stock market today: Wall Street rallies to records as Federal Reserve still sees rate cuts for 2024

By Damian J. Troise, The Associated Press on March 20, 2024.

NEW YORK (AP) – Stocks rallied to more records after the Federal Reserve indicated it’s still likely to deliver the cuts to interest rates this year that Wall Street craves. The S&P 500 rose 0.9% Wednesday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 1%, and the Nasdaq composite jumped 1.3%. All three indexes hit all-time highs. The fear coming into the day was that the Fed would trim the number of expected rate cuts this year because of some hot inflation data, but it’s still penciling in three. Traders built bets that the first cut will come in June.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

NEW YORK (AP) – U.S. stocks are rallying toward more records Wednesday after the Federal Reserve indicated it’s still likely to deliver the cuts to interest rates this year that Wall Street craves, despite some discouragingly high inflation reports.

The S&P 500 was 0.7% higher in late trading and on track to set an all-time high for a second straight day.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 321 points, or 0.8%, as of 3:15 p.m. Eastern time, and the Nasdaq composite was 1% higher. Both are also heading toward records.

After surveying its policy makers, the Fed said the median still expects the central bank to deliver three cuts to interest rates in 2024. That’s the same number as they had penciled in three months earlier, and expectations for the relief that such cuts would provide are a big reason U.S. stock prices have set records.

The fear on Wall Street was that the Fed would trim the number of forecasted cuts because of a string of recent reports that showed inflation remaining hotter than expected. The Fed has been keeping its main interest rate at its highest level since 2001 to grind down inflation. High rates slow the overall economy by making borrowing more expensive and by hurting prices for investments.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell said he noticed the last two months’ worse-than-expected reports, but they “haven’t really changed the overall story, which is that of inflation moving down gradually on a sometimes bumpy road towards 2%. That story hasn’t changed.”

Powell said again that the Fed’s next move is likely to be a cut sometime this year but that it needs additional confirmation inflation is moving sustainably down towards its target of 2%. It has little room for error. Cutting rates too early risks allowing inflation to reaccelerate, but cutting rates too late could lead to widespread job losses and recession.

“I don’t think we really know whether this is a bump on the road or something more; we’ll have to find out,” Powell said about January and February’s inflation data. “In the meantime, the economy is strong, the labor market is strong, inflation has come way down, and that gives us the ability to approach this question carefully.”

Fed officials upgraded their forecasts for the U.S. economy’s growth this year, while also indicating them may end up keeping its main interest rate higher in 2025 and 2026 than earlier thought.

“They probably figure they don’t need to cause a recession to tame inflation, and that’s a good thing,” said Brian Jacobsen, chief economist at Annex Wealth Management.

In the bond market, Treasury yields had a mixed reaction.

The two-year Treasury yield, which closely tracks expectations for Fed action, initially jumped before quickly giving up the gain. It was recently at 4.61%, down from 4.69% late Tuesday, as traders built bets for the Federal Reserve to begin cutting rates in June.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which also takes into account longer-term economic growth and inflation, initially tumbled after the Fed’s announcement but then swiveled. It was recently at 4.26%, compared with 4.30% late Tuesday.

On Wall Street, Mexican food chain Chipotle rose 3.6% after announcing its first stock split in history, a move that would lower the price of each share and make it accessible for more investors.

Markets in Europe and Asia were mixed. Japan’s markets were closed for a holiday a day after the Bank of Japan hiked its benchmark interest rate for the first time in 17 years, raising the rate to a range of zero to 0.1% from minus 0.1%.

The FTSE 100 in London was virtually flat after British inflation in February came in below expectations at 3.4%, marking its lowest level since September 2021. That supports hope for rate cuts in coming months.

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Zimo Zhong contributed to this report.

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