Market Snapshot: U.S. stocks trade mixed as investors watch for clues on outlook from Fed


U.S. stocks were trading mixed Wednesday ahead of the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve’s March policy meeting, which may offer clues on the central bank’s strategy if the economic rebound from the coronavirus pandemic runs too hot.

How are stock benchmarks trading?
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average

    lost11 points, or less than 0.1%, to trade near 33,415.
  • The S&P 500 index

    was virtually unchanged near 4,074.
  • The Nasdaq Composite

    index traded lower by 16 points, or 0.1%, near 13,680.

On Tuesday, the Dow finished down 96.95 points, or 0.3%, to end at 33,430.24, the S&P 500 index fell 3.97 points, or 0.1%, to finish at 4,073.94, after carving out an intraday record at 4,081.37, while the Nasdaq Composite slipped 7.21 points, or less than 0.1%, to close at 13,698.38, ending a streak of three consecutive gains.

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What’s driving the market?

Optimism about the outlook for the business climate has been growing as more Americans get vaccine doses and as Washington aims to provide additional spending measures to help facilitate a fuller recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

So far this year, investors have favored assets that do better at the start of the economic cycle, marking a so-called value rotation.

“We haven’t seen this kind of value rally since 2016,” said Diane Jaffee, senior portfolio manager at TCW. “Just like there are super growth cycles, I do believe there are super value cycles. It didn’t come to pass in 2016 but I think we are in one now.”

Investors will await an account of the Fed’s two-day meeting on March 16-17, set to be released at 2 p.m. Eastern Time. At that meeting, policy makers raised their forecasts for U.S. economic growth and inflation, but emphasized that accommodative monetary policy would stay in place until 2023.

However, the market has been pushing back on those projections, with bond yields rising rapidly this year on expectations that the accelerating economic recovery from the pandemic could spur higher inflation.

Market participants, on average, are expecting four quarter-percentage point rate increases by the end of 2023 from the current range of 0% to 0.25%.

“I think investors are starting to realized that there will be a short-term rise in inflation, but it’s not going to be sustained,” Jaffee told MarketWatch. “Still, if the yield curve turns more positive or the 10-year yield rises, but it’s because of economic growth, that’s a good thing. That’s what we’ve been waiting for these past 10 years!”

While most investors are aware that a big boost in infrastructure spending will help sectors like materials

and industrials
Jaffee also thinks banks

have a lot of things going in their favor, including some technical factors that will boost earnings, and some regulatory relief.

Andrew Slimmon, lead senior portfolio manager at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, thinks it’s never been a better time to invest in value stocks, given the high level of investor distrust of the Fed’s commitment to keeping monetary policy supportive.

“The Fed seriously isn’t changing policy any time soon,” Slimmon wrote in emailed commentary. “Janet Yellen even admits that the Fed made policy error by adjusting policy too quickly post-recession. Yet, investors continue to ignore her and Powell’s statements.”

Some skeptics still expect the Fed to spell out plans to taper its bond-buying program as early as the end of this year.

A rise in bond yields has abated somewhat, with the 10-year Treasury note yield

at around 1.64% Wednesday from 1.72% on Friday. The retreat in benchmarks bond yields has helped to foster some appetite for technology stocks, which benefit from a low interest rate regime.

Meanwhile, JPMorgan Chase & Co. JPM Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon published his annual letter to shareholders on Wednesday, and offered an upbeat view of the economy.

“I have little doubt that with excess savings, new stimulus savings, huge deficit spending, more QE, a new potential infrastructure bill, a successful vaccine and euphoria around the end of the pandemic, the U.S. economy will likely boom,” the executive wrote. “This boom could easily run into 2023 because all the spending could extend well into 2023.” 

Related: Yellen says Biden’s tax hikes will fund traditional and ‘modern’ infrastructure

Which companies are in focus?
  • Walt Disney Company 

    released more information on how visitors can book a visit to its reopening California theme parks and what they can expect in terms of attractions and dining later this month. Shares were 0.8% lower.
  • Target

    announced a commitment to spend more than $2 billion with Black-owned businesses by the end of 2025. Shares were fractionally lower.
  • XPO Logistics Inc.

     said Wednesday said it has more than 1,400 jobs available in North America, and plans to accelerate hiring to meet growing demand. Shares were up 1%.
  • LumiraDX Ltd., a point of care diagnostics testing company, is going public via a merger with special-purpose acquisition corporation, or SPAC, CA Healthcare Acquisition Corp.
     in a deal with a pro forma enterprise value of about $5 billion. 
  • Shares of MSC Industrial Direct Co.

     dropped 4% Wednesday after the metalworking and maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) company reported a fiscal second-quarter profit that topped expectations but sales that fell shy.
  • AppLovin Corp., APP a maker of software for mobile app developers, set terms for its initial public offering on Wednesday, with plans to offer 25 million shares priced at $75 to $85 each. 
  •  Coinbase Global Inc.

    revealed late Tuesday preliminary first-quarter revenue that topped $1 billion, surpassing revenue for all of last year, and a quarterly profit that approached $1 billion. The crypto trading platform is expected to debut on equity markets next week and released preliminary results for the January-March period and guidance for the full year 2021.
How are other assets faring?
  • The ICE U.S. Dollar Index
     a measure of the currency against a basket of six major rivals, was up fractionally at 92.34.
  • The yield on the 10-year Treasury note

     was down 1 basis point at 1.65% as traders awaited the Fed minutes. Yields and bond prices move in opposite directions.
  • Oil futures were higher after a report showed supplies were lower, with the U.S. benchmark

     up 12 cents, or 0.2%, at $59.42 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
  • Gold futures were lower, with the June contract

     shedding $1.40, or 0.1%, to $1,741.60 an ounce on Comex.
  • In Europe, the Stoxx 600 index

     closed 0.2% lower, while London’s FTSE 100

    jumped 0.9%.
  • In Asia, the Shanghai Composite SHCOMP finished 0.1% lower, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng

    closed down 0.9%, while Japan’s Nikkei 225 NIK edged up 0.1%.

Read next: Here are the ETFs to help you invest in the Biden infrastructure plan

Mark DeCambre contributed additional reporting

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