Stocks surged after the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate for the first time in nine years and gave an upbeat assessment of how the US economy is doing.
First, the scoreboard:
- Dow: 17,769.03, +244.12, (1.39%)
- S&P 500: 2,075.16, +31.75, (1.55%)
- Nasdaq: 5,074.92, +79.56, (1.59%)
And now, the top stories on Wednesday:
- The Fed finally raised rates. In a unanimous vote, the FOMC — the Fed’s policy-setting committee — agreed to raise the target range of the federal funds rate by 25 basis points to 0.25% to 0.50% “given the economic outlook, and recognising the time it takes for policy actions to affect future economic outcomes.” The Fed acknowledged that the labour market made “considerable improvement” this year, and expressed confidence that inflation would rise to its 2% target. It was also concerned that the risks of delaying higher rates were more than the risks of moving too soon.
- The Fed also stressed that the path of rate hikes would be gradual, and responsive to incoming economic data. Its forecasts showed that the appropriate rate at the end of 2016 would be 1.375%, implying at least four rate hikes next year. And, the updated “dot plot” showed that FOMC members see rates eventually rising to about 3.5% in the longer term.
- Fed Chair Janet Yellen held a press conference after the statement crossed. She said rates were kept near 0% for that long so that the Fed had room to manoeuvre if it needed to tighten monetary policy further. She said it’s a “myth” that expansions die of old age, although she cautioned that an external shock could send the economy into a recession in any given year are near 10%. When asked about how the Fed might manage its $4 trillion balance sheet, Yellen said it is “studying” what a longer-term plan may be, and will try to shrink its balance sheet over time.
- Stocks fell following an initial rally when the Fed’s statement crossed, but ripped higher in the final half hour of trading. More notably, the yield on the two-year treasury note spiked to as high as 1.02%, and to the highest levels since April 2010. The dollar index rose a bit to about 98.61, by about 0.2%. Gold and silver ripped higher. And, crude oil fell 4% to as low as $35.30; earlier, the Energy Information Administration reported an unexpected build in US oil inventories last week by 4.8 million barrels.
- There were other economic data before the Fed. We got Markit’s flash manufacturing purchasing manager’s index at 51.3. Although it was above 50, in expansionary territory, business conditions improved at the slowest pace since October 2012, and the headline index itself was at the lowest level in just over three years. The effects of a strong dollar, weak global demand, and low energy prices are still weighing on the sector which is showing “signs of stalling” according to Markit chief economist Chris Williamson.
- And even more ugly manufacturing data: industrial production fell more than expected in November, by 0.6%, while capacity utilization was 77% in November. Warm weather led to a 4.3% drop in the utilities index as demand for heating fell. “On balance, manufacturing activity is likely to remain weak,” wrote BNP Paribas to clients.
- But housing starts surged more than expected in November, by 10.5% at an annual rate of 1.17 million, while building permits rose 11% at an annual rate of 1.29 million. Single-family starts rose 7.6% at a rate of 768,000, the highest in nearly eight years. The report was “the first solid, meaningful report on new construction we’ve seen since the early spring,” according to Realtor.com’s Jonathan Smoke, and is “finally communicating a clear and positive trend.”
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