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Market Snapshot: U.S. stocks eke out gains as investors digest mixed signals on Fed’s pace of interest rate hikes

U.S. stocks edged higher in the final trading hour on Thursday as investors assessed the Fed officials’ divergent comments on the pace of interest rate rises after the Federal Open Market Committee released its meeting minutes on Wednesday.

How are stocks trading

S&P 500
SPX,
+0.23%

was up 16 points, or 0.4%, at 4,290.

Dow Jones Industrial Average
DJIA,
+0.06%

rose 55 points, or 0.2%, at 34,035.

Nasdaq Composite
COMP,
+0.21%

gained 62 points, or 0.5%, to 12,999.

On Wednesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 172 points, or 0.5%, to 33980, snapping a five-day winning streak, while the S&P 500 declined 31 points, or 0.72%, to 4274. The Nasdaq Composite dropped 164 points, or 1.25%, to 12938. The Nasdaq Composite is up 21.5% from its mid-June low but remains down 17.3% for the year to date.

What’s driving markets

Following a sizzling bull run that carried the S&P 500 index up more than 17% from its mid-June lows, U.S. stocks looked to be taking a breather as investors scrutinized the latest update on the Federal Reserve’s plans for tightening monetary policy.

Fed minutes from the July meeting, when the Fed hiked its interest-rate target by 75 basis points for the second month in a row, reinforced the notion that the world’s largest central bank isn’t about to stop hiking interest rates any time soon.

See: Did the stock market ‘misinterpret’ Fed again? What strategists say about the reaction to the July minutes

According to one analyst, resurgent fretting over central bank monetary policy tightening is being used as an excuse for profit taking.

“After a very strong run for risk assets thanks to a narrative that we might have seen ‘peak inflation,’ Wednesday put a stop to that as multiple headlines came through that poured cold water on the prospect that central banks were about to let up on hiking rates,” said Henry Allen, macro strategist at Deutsche Bank.

See: Federal Reserve officials back moving interest rates higher in order to slow the economy, minutes show

On Thursday, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard said he is considering another large rate rise at the central bank’s Sept. 20-21 policy meeting.

“I would lean toward the 75 basis points at this point,” Bullard said in a Wall Street Journal interview. “Again, I think we’ve got relatively good reads on the economy, and we’ve got very high inflation, so I think it would make sense to continue to get the policy rate higher and into restrictive territory.”

However, Kansas City Fed President Esther George struck a more cautious tone as she still concerned about the inflation outlook. She said how fast the rate hikes have to happen is something policymakers “will continue to debate”, though the direction is pretty clear. Both Bullard and George are voters this year on the Federal Open Market Committee. 

Meanwhile, San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly also said the Fed is trying to achieve a balancing act, not raising its benchmark interest rates by such a small amount so that high inflation rates will persist but also not pushing policy rates up too high and slow the economy unnecessarily.

“US stocks traded mixed as investors grappled with relatively strong US economic data that might keep the door open for aggressive Fed tightening for the rest of the year,” Edward Moya, Senior Market Analyst for the Americas at OANDA said. “The economy still looks good as the housing market continues to cool.” 

On the U.S. economic data front, investors digested initial jobless claims, which showed that the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits decreased by 2,000 last week from a revised 252,000 during the first week of August. 

See: Jobless claims fall to 250,000 and show little sign of surging layoffs

The Philadelphia Fed Index of local manufacturing activity came in at 6.2, well above the FactSet consensus of minus five. Later in the morning, data on U.S. existing-home sales showed they declined for a sixth month in a row.

Despite these relatively robust data, economists asserted that markets still have reason to be concerned about an economic slowdown in the U.S. and abroad.

Nathan Sheets, global chief economist at Citi, said that even though financial markets had become more positive of late, “we remain concerned about the underlying fundamentals of the global economy. Our sense is that economic performance is likely to be plagued by high inflation, slowing real GDP growth, and rapidly tightening monetary policy for some time to come.”

Related: Expect rolling recessions as Citi cuts economic forecasts

In other data, U.S. existing-home sales fell 5.9% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.81 million in July.

Single-stock movers

Following a massive runup, shares of Bed Bath & Beyond Inc.
BBBY,
-19.63%

were down by more than 21% after GameStop Corp. Chairman Ryan Cohen disclosed he’s planning to sell his big stake in the company just months after he bought it.

Shares of Kohl’s Corp.
KSS,
-7.72%

tumbled 7% after the department store chain reported fiscal second-quarter profit that missed expectations.

Cisco Systems Inc.
CSCO,
+5.81%

 was up 6% after the company forecast stronger-than-expected revenue growth in the months ahead when it reported its second-quarter earnings Wednesday night.

Shares of Wolfspeed Inc.
WOLF,
+31.86%

surged 30% after topping revenue estimates in the recent quarter. Shares of other semiconductor companies also rose with Broadcom Inc.
AVGO,
+3.69%
,
Nvidia Corp.
NVDA,
+2.39%
,
Micron Technology
MU,
+2.21%
,
and Applied Materials
AMAT,
+2.14%

jumping more than 2% each.

Other markets

The 10-year Treasury yield 
TMUBMUSD10Y,
2.875%

declined to 2.879%, while the yield on the 2-year Treasury 
TMUBMUSD02Y,
3.199%

 slipped to 3.216% from 3.293% on Wednesday.

West Texas Intermediate crude for September delivery
CL00,
+2.79%

 
CLU22,
+2.79%

gained $2.39, or 2.7%, to settle at $90.50 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. 

The ICE U.S. Dollar Index
DXY,
+0.84%
,
a gauge of the dollar’s strength against a basket of rivals, was up 0.6%. Gold prices for December delivery 
GC00,
-0.20%

GCZ22,
-0.20%

 fell $5.50, or 0.3%, to settle at $1,771.20 per ounce on Comex.

Japan’s Nikkei 225
NIY00,
+0.34%

shed 1% during Asian market hours on Thursday, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng
11,
-3.11%

index fell 0.8% and China’s Shanghai Composite
SHCOMP,
-0.46%

fell 0.5%.

The Europe Stoxx 600
FXXP00,
+0.14%

finished 0.4% higher, as did UK stock-market benchmark FTSE 100
Z00,
+0.32%
.

 — Jamie Chisholm contributed to this article.

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