By Damian J. Troise and Alex Veiga
Stocks closed broadly higher on Wall Street Wednesday, after the minutes from the Federal Reserve's most recent policy meeting showed central bank officials agreed that smaller rate hikes would likely be appropriate “soon.”
The S&P 500 rose 0.6%, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.3%. The Nasdaq composite closed 1% higher.
Long-term Treasury yields fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which influences mortgage rates, slipped to 3.69% from 3.76%.
At the Nov. 1-2 meeting, Fed officials expressed uncertainty about how long it might take for their rate hikes to slow the economy enough to tame inflation. At a news conference afterward, Chair Jerome Powell stressed that the Fed wasn't even close to declaring victory in its fight to curb high inflation. Other Fed officials in the weeks since the meeting signaled that additional hikes would still be necessary.
Still, a “substantial majority″ of the officials felt that smaller rate hikes “would likely soon be appropriate,” according to the minutes of their meeting.
That line of thinking is likely to stoke optimism among investors who have been trying to gauge how soon central bank officials would begin to dial back the aggressive pace of rate hikes in the Fed’s campaign to lower inflation.
“Markets continue to hold onto gains as the Fed minutes reinforce what Fed speakers have been telegraphing since the November 1-2 meeting,” said Quincy Krosby, chief global strategist for LPL Financial. “That is that the Fed is stepping down in terms of rates, from the aggressive campaign of 75 basis points to 50 basis points most likely at the December 13-14 meeting.”
The central bank’s benchmark rate currently stands at 3.75% to 4%, up from close to zero in March. It has warned that it may have to ultimately raise rates to previously unanticipated levels to cool the hottest inflation in decades.
Wall Street has been closely watching the latest economic and inflation data for any signs that might allow the Fed to ease up on future rate increases. Investors are worried that the Fed could slam the brakes too hard on economic growth and bring on a recession.
Consumer spending and the employment market have so far remained strong points in the economy. That has helped as a bulwark against a recession, but also means the Fed may have to remain aggressive.
The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week to the highest level since August, but the figure still remains low by historic standards. A November survey from the University of Michigan shows that consumer sentiment grew from October by more than economists had expected.
Technology stocks and some big retailers helped drive a big share of the gains in the benchmark S&P 500 index Wednesday. Chipmaker Nvidia rose 3% and Target rose 3.5%.
Farming equipment maker Deere gained 5% after reporting stronger financial results than analysts were expecting.
Homebuilders rose broadly following a government report showing that sales of new U.S. homes rose more than expected in October. Lennar gained 1.6% and D.R. Horton rose 2.2%.
Crude oil prices fell 3.7%, which weighed down energy stocks. Hess fell 2.2%.
All told, the S&P 500 rose 23.68 points to 4,027.26. The Dow gained 95.96 points to 34,194.06. The Nasdaq rose 110.91 points to 11,285.32.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies edged higher, adding 3.08 points, or 0.2%, to close at 1,863.52.
European markets closed mostly higher and Asian markets closed mixed overnight.
Trading has been unsteady during the holiday-shortened week, but major indexes are on track for weekly gains. U.S. markets will be closed Thursday for Thanksgiving and will close early on Friday.