Stocks rallied and Treasury yields fell Wednesday after the head of the Federal Reserve said that the central bank could soon begin slowing down on its interest rate increases, noting signs that its efforts to tame inflation are working.
Fed Chair Jerome Powell, speaking at the Brookings Institution, reaffirmed that the central bank could begin moderating its pace of rate hikes as soon as December, when the policymaking committee is due to hold its next meeting.
“We have a risk management balance to strike," Powell said. "And we think that slowing down (on rate hikes) at this point is a good way to balance the risks.”
Even so, Powell noted that the Fed will likely have to keep rates elevated for some time to ensure inflation comes down sufficiently.
“History cautions strongly against prematurely loosening policy,” Powell said. “We will stay the course until the job is done.”
Stock indexes, which had been wavering ahead of Powell's remarks at 1:30 p.m. Eastern, rose broadly in afternoon trading. The S&P 500 rose 1.9% as of 2:15 p.m. Eastern, on pace to snap a three-day losing streak. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 370 points, or 1%, to 34,216, and the Nasdaq climbed 3.2%.
Treasury yields fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which influences mortgage rates, dropped to 3.69% from 3.75% late Tuesday. The yield on the two-year note fell to 4.43%. It was trading at 4.48% late Tuesday and had been as high as 4.53% shortly before Powell's speech.
Major indexes have been unsteady as the economy and financial markets deal with stubbornly hot inflation and the Fed's attempt to cool high prices with aggressive interest rate increases. Still, the benchmark S&P 500 and the Dow are solidly on track to close out November in the green, which would mark their second straight monthly gain.
U.S. crude oil prices climbed 3%.
All of the company sectors in the benchmark S&P 500 rose, with technology and communication stocks powering much of the rally. Apple rose 3.2% and Netflix jumped 7.4%.
Markets in Asia and Europe were mostly higher.
Wall Street has been hoping that the Fed will slow the scale and pace of its interest rate hikes. The central bank has been very clear about its intent to raise interest rates until it is sure inflation is cooling.
The central bank has raised its benchmark rate to 3.75% to 4%, up from close to zero in March. The goal is to make borrowing more difficult and generally slow the economy in order to tame inflation. There’s a risk the Fed could slow the economy too much and send it into a recession.
The economy has been slowing, but contains strong pockets that have given markets hope that a recession could be avoided. The government on Wednesday said the economy grew at a 2.9% annual rate from July through September, an upgrade from its initial estimate.
Consumers have continued spending, despite of inflation squeezing wallets, and the overall employment market remains strong.
The employment market remains a big focus for the Fed and investors. It's strength has helped the broader economy, but makes it more difficult to cool inflation.
“If we can get a weaker labor market, we'll probably get weaker wage pressure,” said Scott Ladner, chief investment officer at Horizon Investments. “That’s sort of the last shoe to drop with inflation.”
Economic data on Wednesday showed signs of a softening labor market, though it remains relatively strong historically. The U.S. government reported that job openings dropped in October more than economists had anticipated. Human resources company ADP reported an easing in private sector employment growth in November.
Investors will get more data Thursday on the employment sector with a report on weekly unemployment claims. The closely watched monthly report on the job market will be released on Friday.