• Wed. Mar 22nd, 2023


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U.S. Stocks Turn Higher Ahead of Fed Meeting – The Wall Street Journal

U.S. stock indexes rose Tuesday as investors geared up for the Federal Reserve’s policy decision this week and evaluated a batch of earnings.

The S&P 500 climbed 0.7%, sustaining the momentum from a late rally that lifted stocks on Monday. The technology-focused Nasdaq Composite gained 0.2% while the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.4%. Ten of the S&P’s 11 industry subsectors were in the green.

Those moves belied a tense mood among investors expecting the U.S. central bank to accelerate its tightening of monetary policy this week, the latest step in inflation-fighting efforts that have already raised borrowing costs throughout the economy this year, scrambling stock and bond markets.

Recent economic data have shown higher costs on everything from groceries to gasoline, with war in Ukraine and harsh anti-Covid-19 measures in China further complicating global trade. U.S. companies are also facing climbing wages as labor markets remain tight. Those factors have put inflation at the top of the Fed’s agenda, setting up moves that could bring additional stock-market turbulence, said Andrew Hollenhorst, the chief U.S. economist at Citigroup.

“Even if we get exactly the Fed policy that’s expected to be announced…are risk assets still coming to terms with that?” Mr. Hollenhorst said.

Meanwhile, traders are reacting to a slew of big companies’ latest reports and financial forecasts. Investment firm KKR rose 4.2% after its after-tax distributable earnings came in above analyst estimates. Estee Lauder lost 5.5% after the company lowered its revenue and earnings outlook. Rockwell Automation said quarterly earnings tumbled, sending shares down 12%.

In other corporate headlines, Elliott Investment Management disclosed a roughly 6% stake in Western Digital, pushing shares of the data-storage company up 15%. Healthcare Realty Trust shares climbed 8.3% after The Wall Street Journal reported that Welltower remained an interested bidder following an earlier acquisition proposal, despite Healthcare Realty’s agreement to merge with Healthcare Trust of America.

Broadly positive corporate reports have failed to steady the market in recent weeks. Earnings growth is in line with historical norms at about 11% annually, according to Deutsche Bank analysts, while margins have remained near record levels despite rising input prices. Still, the S&P has lost about 12% year to date.

“These were stronger beats than we had last quarter. It has been a good earnings season,” said Jonathan Golub, chief U.S. equities strategist at Credit Suisse. Even so, he added, investors’ concerns about inflation and the Fed’s response have left potential buyers feeling gloomy.

“The market sees that the Fed is going to have to do an awful lot to get this under control,” Mr. Golub said.

Earnings season continues apace. Airbnb, Starbucks, Lyft and American International Group are on the block after markets close.

One factor weighing on markets is higher Treasury yields, which as they rise offer investors more-competitive low-risk returns relative to stocks. Earlier on Tuesday, the yield on 10-year Treasury notes topped 3% for a second straight day before slipping back to 2.938%, compared with 2.995% Monday. Yields, which move inversely to bond prices and are a reference for borrowing costs throughout the economy, have shot to their highest levels since 2018 in anticipation of higher interest rates.

Rate-setting officials will gather Tuesday for a two-day policy meeting. At its conclusion Wednesday, the Fed is expected to raise interest rates by a half percentage point, the first such increase in 22 years and following on from a quarter-point rise in March.

Investors will seek details from Chairman Jerome Powell on the central bank’s plans to reduce its bondholdings. Officials have recently indicated that they will allow $95 billion in securities to mature every month, unwinding another form of stimulus lavished on markets during the pandemic.

“It appears that the war in Ukraine hasn’t derailed the Fed in the slightest,” said Gregory Perdon, co-chief investment officer at Arbuthnot Latham. Financial conditions have already tightened significantly, Mr. Perdon added, pointing to a strengthening dollar, the increase in Treasury yields and rising mortgage rates.

Overseas stock markets wavered. The Stoxx Europe 600 gained about 0.5%, led by shares of banks and oil-and-gas companies on a busy day for earnings in the region.

BP shares rose 5.8% after the oil producer reported underlying profit of $6.2 billion, when stripping out a pretax accounting charge related to its decision to exit its Russia holdings. BNP Paribas posted a jump in earnings, sending shares of the French lender 5.2% higher.

All eyes are on the Federal Reserve’s next steps.


Sweden’s OMX Stockholm All-Share steadied, rising 0.2%. On Monday, the market was among the worst affected by a flash crash in European shares sparked by an erroneous sale by Citigroup.

Mainland Chinese markets were closed for a public holiday. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng edged up 0.1%.

In commodities, Brent-crude futures prices slipped 1.7% to $105.72 a barrel. Traders are awaiting a meeting of ministers from OPEC members and their allies including Russia on Thursday, and monitoring shutdowns in China that are curbing fuel demand.

A European Union proposal to ban Russian crude oil by the end of the year is due to be circulated to member states Tuesday.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has indicated that the central bank is likely to raise interest rates by a half percentage point at its meeting. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Write to Joe Wallace at joe.wallace@wsj.com and Matt Grossman at matt.grossman@wsj.com.

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