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U.S. Stocks Move Sharply Lower As Fed Casts Doubt On March Rate Cut
Stocks moved sharply lower over the course of the trading day on Wednesday, with the major averages all moving to the downside following the mixed performance seen in the previous session. The tech-heavy Nasdaq posted a particularly steep loss, extending the notable pullback seen on Tuesday.
The major averages finished the session near their worst levels of the day. The Nasdaq plunged 345.89 points or 2.2 percent to 15,164.01, the S&P 500 tumbled 79.32 points or 1.6 percent to 4,845.65 and the Dow slid 317.01 points or 0.8 percent to 38,150.30.
Tech stocks led the way lower early in the session, but selling pressure became more broad based following the Federal Reserve's highly anticipated monetary policy announcement.
The Fed announced its widely expected decision to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 5.25 to 5.50 percent in support of its dual goals of maximum employment and inflation at the rate of 2 percent over the longer run.
The decision to leave rates unchanged came as the Fed acknowledged inflation has eased over the past year but said it remains elevated.
The central bank also described economic growth as solid while noting job gains have moderated since early last year but remain strong.
The Fed's statement notably removed the reference to "any additional policy firming that may be appropriate."
However, the Fed also said it does not expect it will be appropriate to lower rates until it has gained greater confidence that inflation is moving sustainably toward 2 percent.
Fed Chair Jerome Powell reiterated those sentiments in his post-meeting press conference and said he doesn't think it's likely the central bank will reach that level of confidence by the time of the March meeting.
Following the announcement, the chances of a 25 basis point rate cut in March have fallen to 35.5 percent, according to CME Group's FedWatch Tool.
A steep drop by shares of Alphabet (GOOGL) weighed on the tech sector early in the session, with the Google parent tumbling by 7.6 percent.
Alphabet came under pressure after reporting fourth quarter results that beat estimates on the top and bottom lines but weaker than expected ad revenue.
Chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) also slumped by 2.5 percent after reporting fourth quarter earnings in line with estimates but providing disappointing first quarter guidance.
Shares of Microsoft (MSFT) also moved to the downside after the software giant reported better than expected fiscal second quarter results but forecast third quarter revenues below estimates.
Meanwhile, a strong gain by Boeing (BA) limited the downside for the Dow, with the aerospace giant surging by 5.3 percent after reporting a narrower than expected fourth quarter loss.
In U.S. economic news, payroll processor ADP released a report showing private sector job growth in the U.S. slowed by more than expected in the month of January.
ADP said private sector employment rose by 107,000 jobs in January after climbing by a downwardly revised 158,000 jobs in December.
Economists had expected private sector employment to increase by 145,000 jobs compared to the addition of 164,000 jobs originally reported for the previous month.
Networking stocks turned in some of the worst performances on the day, resulting in a 3.5 percent nosedive by the NYSE Arca Networking Index. The index pulled back further off the six-month closing high set on Monday.
Substantial weakness was also visible among software stocks, as reflected by the 2.5 percent slump by the Dow Jones U.S. Software Index.
Financial stocks also came under pressure in reaction to the Fed announcement, with the NYSE Arca Broker/Dealer Index and the KBW Bank Index tumbling by 2.4 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively.
Energy, biotechnology and transportation stocks also saw considerable weakness, moving lower along with most of the other major sectors.
In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region turned in a mixed performance during trading on Wednesday. Japan's Nikkei 225 Index climbed by 0.6 percent, while China's Shanghai Composite Index tumbled by 1.5 percent.
Meanwhile, the major European markets all moved to the downside on the day. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index slid by 0.5 percent, German DAX Index and the French CAC 40 Index fell by 0.4 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively.
In the bond market, treasuries moved sharply higher, extending a recent upward trend. Subsequently, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note, which moves opposite of its price, tumbled 9.2 basis points to 3.967 percent.
Trading on Thursday may continue to be impacted by reaction to the Fed, while reports on weekly jobless claims, manufacturing activity and construction spending are also likely to attract attention.
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