The Federal Reserve didn’t surprise investors but still left them disappointed.
Stocks closed mostly higher Wednesday after the Fed said the economy was on the mend and orders for big-ticket manufactured items posted an unexpected increase. Although the Dow Jones industrials fell modestly, the broader market measures ended the day with gains.
Bond prices fell after the Fed said it wouldn’t step up its spending to purchase Treasurys and other debt to pry interest rates lower.
The central bank’s decision to leave its key lending rate at a low of zero to 0.25 percent was anticipated but some investors have been hoping the central bank would do more to help revive the economy. Others wanted the Fed to more clearly lay out how it will keep inflation in check.
“The Fed is still stuck on that tightrope of trying to make sure they provide enough reassurance to keep the recovery going but at the same time try to allay the concern that they won’t allow inflation to get going either,” said Bruce McCain, chief investment strategist at Key Private Bank in Cleveland.
In the economic assessment statement accompanying its rate decision, the Fed said the economy doesn’t appear to be sliding as quickly as it had been. It noted that consumer spending has shown further signs of stabilizing although job losses, shrinking wealth and tight credit remain problems. And while the Fed said economic activity is likely to remain weak for some time, it repeated its belief that stimulus policies will restore the economy to growth.
The Fed’s opinion could help reassure investors. A stock market rally that began in early March has faded as traders worried that the economy and corporate profits might not rebound as quickly as hoped. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index is up 33.2 percent from a 12-year low reached March 9, but down 4.8 percent from its most recent peak on June 12.
Investors have been concerned that rising prices or higher interest rates could upend a recovery. Policymakers noted that energy and other commodities prices have risen, although they said “substantial resource slack” would likely rein in cost pressures and that inflation “will remain subdued for some time.”
The Fed also didn’t say it would increase its purchases of Treasurys or other kinds of government debt, disappointing some investors who had hoped for more. The Fed has said it would buy $1.25 trillion in mortgage-backed securities and $300 billion in Treasurys in an effort to stimulate the economy by keeping borrowing rates low.
“There’s nothing here that is a nice green light. It’s more of the same,” said Steven Stahler, president of The Stahler Group in Baton Rouge, La.
The Dow fell 23.05, or 0.3 percent, to 8,299.86, extending its slide to a fourth day and a loss of 3 percent.
But the S&P 500 index rose 5.84, or 0.7 percent, to 900.94, the first finish above 900 since Friday. The Nasdaq composite index rose 27.42, or 1.6 percent, to 1,792.34 following better-than-expected earnings from software maker Oracle Corp.
About two stocks rose for every one that fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where consolidated volume came to 4.72 billion shares, down from Tuesday’s 4.95 billion.
The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 3.69 percent from 3.63 percent Tuesday.
Bonds also drew strength from a successful Treasury Department auction of $37 billion in five-year notes. Auctions have been going smoothly this year, but both bond and stock investors are looking for signs that demand for new Treasury supply might be waning. If demand trails off, the government will have to raise yields sharply to attract buyers. Treasury yields are closely tied to borrowing rates for consumers on loans
such as mortgages.
Although the Fed has held its target fed funds rate steady since late last year, its economic statements have touched off big moves in stocks. In January, the statement coincided with hopes for a plan for banks’ toxic assets; in March, the Fed announced it would start buying Treasurys; and in April, the Fed said it was seeing signs the recession is easing.
Dan Cook, senior market analyst at IG Markets in Chicago, said some traders had been cautious ahead of the Fed’s statement, not knowing what policy steps it might take so that some disappointment was to be expected when the central bank’s comments were muted.
“In March they showed us the distance they will go for the shock and awe,” he said, referring to unprecedented policy steps.
Stocks had been sharply higher early in the day, with the Dow up 105 at its high, following a surprise jump in orders for big-ticket manufactured items. The Commerce Department said durable goods orders rose 1.8 percent in May. Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had anticipated a drop.
Recent gauges of the economy have been improving, but they have not yet pointed to growth. Many investors are nervous that a recovery could be hampered if the Fed raises interest rates too soon or starts dismantling its emergency supports for the financial system.
Kurt Karl, chief U.S. economist at Swiss Re, said policymakers appear confident they will be able to remove the central bank’s steadying hand from the economy because a recovery is taking root slowly, keeping inflation pressure low.
“They’ll have plenty of time at the rate things are going in the economy to implement the exit strategy,” he said. “They feel everything is on target and their game plan is working.”
In corporate news, Oracle jumped $1.39, or 7 percent, to $21.26 after its earnings exceeded analysts’ average forecast.
In other trading, crude oil fell 57 cents to settle at $68.67 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The dollar was mixed against other major currencies
. Gold prices rose.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 5.18, or 1.1 percent, to 494.95.
Overseas, stocks rose. Britain’s FTSE 100 added 1.2 percent, Germany’s DAX index rose 2.7 percent, and France’s CAC-40 rose 2.2 percent. Japan’s Nikkei stock average advanced 0.4 percent.