By Joy Wiltermuth and Frances Yue
Dow heads for worst first-half of a year since 1962
U.S. stock indexes closed lower in choppy trade Wednesday, after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell reiterated his commitment to combat inflation through higher interest rates, but said a recession couldn't be ruled out.
President Joe Biden also called on a temporary gas-tax holiday and for ramped up U.S. refinery activity to help offset high energy prices that he blamed on Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
How did stock indexes perform?
Following a long holiday weekend, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rallied 641.47 points, or 2.2%, to finish at 30,530.25 on Tuesday. The S&P 500 rose 2.5% to 3,764.79, and the Nasdaq Composite climbed 2.5%, to finish at 11,069.30.
What drove the market?
While facing stinging losses in the year's first half, investors weighed a renewed vow by Fed Chairman Powell on Wednesday to bring down inflation through additional interest rate hikes, while testifying on Capitol Hill.
"The American economy is very strong and well positioned to handle tighter monetary policy," Powell said, in remarks to a Senate Banking Committee hearing.
Powell also said that a recession was "certainly a possibility," but not the intended consequence of monetary policy moves.
See: Powell says U.S. economy can handle the additional rate hikes that are coming
"Powell assured markets he will do everything he can to get inflation back down," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities, by phone. "And it comes at a price. That price is a potential recession."
But stocks already were "discounting inflation, a recession and a very bleak economic scenario," Cardillo said. Their next catalyst likely will be fresh corporate earnings reports that emerge in about 15 days, he said, giving investors a better picture of how American businesses are coping with costs of living at a 40-year high.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, warned Powell on Wednesday not to make things worse for families. "Inflation is like an illness, and medicine needs to be tailored to the specific problem," she said. "You could actually tip the economy into a recession."
Chicago Fed President Charles Evans said on Wednesday that he backs raising the fed fund rate target to a range of 3.25% to 3.5% this year, and to 3.8% by the end of 2023, as the Fed looks to battle inflation.
While stocks were higher, money was flowing into traditional havens such as bonds. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell 14.9 basis points to 3.155%, the steepest daily decline since Nov. 21, according to Dow Jones Market Data.
"Throughout the first half of the year, the market has priced in a more aggressive Fed," said Brent Schutte, chief investment officer at Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management Company.
Earlier expectations were for a roughly 1% increase to the Fed's benchmark rate in 2022, but they now have shifted to about 3.5%, he said, by phone. "If you reprice the bond market, you have to reprice the stock market."
To that end, should inflation and rate-hike expectations stabilize, or move lower in a mild-recession scenario, Schutte sees room for stocks to find a higher footing heading into year-end. "You are almost cheering for an economic pullback to get inflation under control," he said.
Stocks briefly rose to session highs after President Joe Biden on Wednesday called on Congress to suspend the federal gasoline tax for three months, while also asking states to provide similar relief and for the U.S. to ramp up its refinery activity.
The federal government charges an 18 cent tax per gallon of gasoline and a 24 cent tax per gallon of diesel. A "gasoline tax holiday, while supporting consumers, would support demand, thereby prolong the period of tightness," said Ole Hansen, head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank, in a note to clients.
U.S. crude oil prices dropped 3% to settle at $106.91 a barrel, a six-week low.
Which companies were in focus?
How did other assets trade?
--Barbara Kollmeyer contributed reporting to this article
- Joy Wiltermuth
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
June 22, 2022 16:36 ET (20:36 GMT)
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