By Isabel Wang and Frances Yue
U.S. stocks finished lower on Wednesday as concern about the impasse in the debt-ceiling talks grew while the minutes from the Federal Reserve's May meeting showed several policymakers thought more interest-rate hikes may not be needed.
How stocks traded
On Tuesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 231 points, or 0.69%, to 33056, the S&P 500 declined 47 points, or 1.12%, to 4146, and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 161 points, or 1.26%, to 12560.
What drove markets
U.S. stock indexes ended lower on Wednesday with the Dow industrials extending the losing streak to a fourth day as debt-ceiling negotiations continued with few signs of progress, while the FOMC meeting minutes show that Fed officials were uncertain on whether more interest-rate hikes are needed.
U.S. Treasury Secretary said Wednesday morning that it is "almost certain" that the Treasury will run out of resources in early June. Yellen also said there could be pain even with a deal.
"One of the concerns I have is that even in the run-up to an agreement, when one does occur, there can be substantial financial-market distress. We're seeing just the beginnings of it," she said, as she responded to questions about Washington's debt-ceiling standoff during The Wall Street Journal's CEO Council Summit.
"But if you go back to 2011, remember that U.S. Treasuries were actually downgraded. The stock market fell almost 20%."
A debt-ceiling deal was reached in 2011 at last minute before the "X-date," or the date when U.S. is unable to fulfill its financial obligations, when a similar standoff was in play.
See also:How will the Fed react to the debt ceiling breach? Here are some plays in the playbook
As the debt-ceiling deadlock continues, "investors are likely to continue to see the behavior we've seen recently," said Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist at Invesco US. "Stocks go up when the news is fairly positive. When the discussions are stalled, stocks go down. Well we are gonna continue to see the bond market showing concerns, more accurately pricing in risks."
Drawing from the experience in 2011, "we do have something like a playbook to guide us and give us some expectations around what would happen to different asset classes before the X-date," Hooper told MarketWatch via phone. "But we don't know what would happen if we reach the X date without an agreement."
Most likely, investors will see yields on government bonds, especially the short-term ones, rise significantly. In 2011 "we definitely saw a flight to quality and a flight to safe havens, and treasuries were included on that list for investors, I don't know if that's gonna happen once we hit the X-date. In fact, I think it's going to be the opposite," Hooper said.
See:A debt-ceiling deal will spark a new worry: Who will buy the deluge of Treasury bills?
The yield on the 2-year Treasury ended at the highest level since March 10, rising 6.3 basis points to 4.343%, according to Dow Jones Market Data.
Marco Santanché, quant consultant at Unbiased Alpha, said the risk is that inflation becomes stickier and further rate rises by the Fed will put more pressure on the U.S. financial markets.
However, if there is a "big surprise" regarding the debt-ceiling negotiation, meaning the government breaches the debt limit, then "every sector of the economy -- mostly stocks, but also Treasuries -- will suffer," Santanché told MarketWatch in a phone interview.
See: 'Several' Fed officials said more rate hikes may not be needed, and other key takeaways from May minutes
The minutes from the central bank's May 2-3 meeting showed policymakers were divided over whether further interest-rate increases would be necessary to lower inflation, with "some" of them saying that additional policy firming was still "likely."
Some officials also stressed that Fed should communicate that cuts in interest rates were not likely this year and that further rate hikes had not been ruled out.
European stocks ended lower on Wednesday, while U.K. government bond yields rose , after data showed inflation in Britain slowing to 8.7% in April, but was still higher than expected.
The stubbornly high inflation in the U.K. pushed expectations for the Bank of England's peak interest rate to 5.5%, from the current 4.5% and reminded investors more broadly that the global battle against inflation was not done.
Companies in focus
-- Jamie Chisholm contributed to this article.
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May 24, 2023 16:34 ET (20:34 GMT)
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