Stocks hit high on data, earnings; Fed keeps rates steady

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Flags fly over the Federal Reserve Headquarters on a windy day in Washington, US, May 26, 2017. Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

NEW YORK – World stock markets climbed to a fresh high on Wednesday, boosted by solid corporate earnings, while the dollar strengthened after the Federal Reserve held interest rates steady and solid economic data.

The Federal Reserve kept rates unchanged on Wednesday and pointed to solid US economic growth and a strengthening labor market while downplaying the impact of recent hurricanes, a sign it is on track to lift borrowing costs again in December. Traders put the chance of a rate hike next month at 86.3 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.

MSCI’s gauge of stock markets held gains in the wake of the announcement, although the index was off a high hit earlier in the session.

“We are still looking at an environment of pretty aggressive monetary policy and that just flows through to asset pricing so I don’t see any big decline coming,” said Stephen Massocca, Senior Vice President at Wedbush Securities in San Francisco.

“It might be valuations hold the market back but that money has got to flow somewhere.”

Next up for the central bank is the expected announcement on Thursday of a new Fed chair nominee from US President Donald Trump. Market participants widely expect it to be Fed Governor Jerome Powell, who is considered more dovish on interest rates than some other candidates and thus relatively stock-market friendly.

Data on Wednesday showed the US economy remained on solid footing ahead of Friday’s payrolls report. Although a measure of factory activity lost ground as hurricane-related supply disruptions faded, another report showed private sector hiring surged.

The dollar index rose 0.26 percent, with the euro down 0.23 percent to $1.1617.

Shares of Japanese multinational Sony soared as much as 12.3 percent to a 9-year high after the electronics and entertainment firm forecast its best-ever annual profit. US listed shares of the stock were up 0.3 percent at $43.54.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 57.77 points, or 0.25 percent, to 23,435.01, the S&P 500 gained 4.1 points, or 0.16 percent, to 2,579.36 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 11.14 points, or 0.17 percent, to 6,716.53.

Benchmark 10-year notes last rose 2/32 in price to yield 2.3703 percent, from 2.376 percent late on Tuesday.

After the closing bell in the United States, earnings are expected from Facebook, which was up 1.44 percent as the biggest boost to the S&P 500. On Thursday, earnings are expected from iPhone maker Apple Inc.

Of 326 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported results, 73 percent topped analyst expectations, compared with 72 percent over the past four quarters, according to Thomson Reuters data. The earnings growth estimate for the quarter is currently at 7 percent.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index rose 0.43 percent after touching its highest level since August 2015 and MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe gained 0.30 percent.

A rise in oil prices to their highest level since mid-2015 also served to boost energy names. Oil prices retreated, however, after US government data showed that the latest weekly draw in domestic crude stocks was not as big as an industry trade group had reported.

US crude settled at $54.30 per barrel, down 0.15 percent and Brent settled at $60.49, down 0.74 percent on the day.

The S&P energy index gained 1.1 percent, on track for the best day since late September, while in Europe basic resources stocks jumped 2.7 percent.



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