US stocks rallied to a convincingly higher close on Tuesday, but trade was choppy as investors digested comments from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell about how long the central bank may need to tame inflation.
Powell said 2023 should be a year of "significant declines in inflation."
His comments renewed investor hopes for less aggressive monetary policy that wavered after a strong US jobs report last Friday. "We didn't expect it to be this strong," Powell said at the Economic Club of Washington, referring to the nonfarm payrolls report for January, but it "shows why we think this will be a process that takes quite a bit of time."
"Powell expects they're not going to be cutting rates anytime soon, but that there is a good path, that they’re accomplishing what they need to accomplish,” said Shawn Cruz, head trading strategist at TD Ameritrade.
Wall Street's main indexes fluctuated wildly during and after Powell's remarks, and analysts said volatility is unlikely to dissipate soon.
"Until we see softening and inflation throughout the economy and throughout the globe, it's going to be hard to push the markets up in a decisive fashion," said Carol Schleif, chief investment officer at BMO Family Office.
The tech-heavy Nasdaq rallied on news form Microsoft Corp, and the S&P 500 also got a boost. The company's shares rose 1.29% as it unveiled an integration of ChatGPT, a chatbot from OpenAI, into its products.
Following Powell's comments, Morgan Stanley said it added 25 basis point to its forecast for the May policy meeting, but continued to expect the first 25 basis point rate cut for December, 2023.
Last week, the Fed raised interest rates by 25 basis points, with markets now pricing in a peak rate above 5% after Friday's strong jobs data.
US-listed shares of Baidu Inc soared 12.18% as the Chinese search engine said it would conclude testing of its ChatGPT-style project "Ernie Bot" in March.
Most sectors on the S&P 500 ended higher. The energy sector the top gainer as crude prices surged more than 3% on Powell's remarks. The technology and communication services sectors were also among top gainers.
Among top gainers on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, Boeing Inc went up 3.84% after the US planemaker confirmed it expects to cut about 2,000 white-collar jobs.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 265.67 points, or 0.78%, to 34,156.69, the S&P 500 gained 52.92 points, or 1.29%, to 4,164 and the Nasdaq Composite added 226.34 points, or 1.9%, to 12,113.79.
Volume on US exchanges was 11.98 billion shares, in line with the full session over the last 20 trading days.
On Monday, US stock indexes were dragged by views that rates would stay higher for longer. Still, all three major averages are in the black for 2023, with the Nasdaq adding over 15%, led by a revival in battered mega-cap growth stocks.
So far, more than half of the companies on the S&P 500 have reported quarterly earnings, with 69.1% of them beating expectations, according to Refinitiv. Still, analysts expect fourth-quarter earnings to decline 3.1%.
DuPont De Nemours Inc jumped 7.50% on a higher-than-expected quarterly profit supported by higher pricing for its products.
Bed Bath & Beyond plunged almost 50% as the home-goods retailer sought to raise $1 billion in a last-ditch effort to avoid bankruptcy. The company completed the equity offering after the close of trading.
Later on Tuesday, US President Joe Biden will deliver the annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.68-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.42-to-1 ratio favored advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 5 new 52-week highs and 2 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 90 new highs and 31 new lows.
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