Stocks gain ground on Wall Street ahead of holiday

Stocks

(AP) – Stocks were higher on Wall Street in afternoon trading Wednesday, after the minutes from the Federal Reserve’s most recent policy meeting showed central bank officials agreed that smaller rate hikes would likely be appropriate “soon.”

That’s likely to stoke optimism among investors who have been trying to gauge how soon the central bank would begin to dial back their aggressive pace of rate hikes in its campaign to lower inflation.

Stock indexes edged higher following the 2:00 p.m. Eastern release of the minutes from the central bank’s meeting. The S&P 500 was up 0.6% as of 3:05 p.m. Eastern. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 117 points, or 0.3%, to 34,215 and the Nasdaq composite was up 1%.

At the meeting early this month, the Fed officials expressed uncertainty about how long it might take for their rate hikes to slow the economy enough to tame inflation. At a news conference following the Nov. 1-2 meeting, Chair Jerome Powell stressed that that the Fed wasn’t even close to declaring victory in its fight to curb high inflation. Other Fed officials have signaled in recent weeks that additional hikes are still needed.

Still, the minutes show Fed officials also agreed that smaller rate hikes “would likely soon be appropriate.″

“Markets continue to hold onto gains as the Fed minutes reinforce what Fed speakers have been telegraphing since the November 1-2 meeting,” said Quincy Krosby, chief global strategist for LPL Financial. “That is that the Fed is stepping down in terms of rates, from the aggressive campaign of 75 basis points to 50 basis points most likely at the December 13-14 meeting.”

The central bank’s benchmark rate currently stands at 3.75% to 4%, up from close to zero in March. It has warned that it may have to ultimately raise rates to previously unanticipated levels to cool the hottest inflation in decades.

During their meeting, Fed officials also expressed uncertainty about how long it might take for their rate hikes to tame inflation, though some expressed hope that falling commodity prices and the unsnarling of supply chain bottlenecks “should contribute to lower inflation in the medium term.’’

Wall Street has been closely watching the latest economic and inflation data for any signs that might allow the Fed to ease up on future rate increases. Investors are worried that the Fed could slam the brakes too hard on economic growth and bring on a recession.

Consumer spending and the employment market have so far remained strong points in the economy. That has helped as a bulwark against a recession, but also means the Fed may have to remain aggressive.

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week to the highest level since August, but the figure still remains low by historic standards. A November survey from the University of Michigan shows that consumer sentiment grew from October by more than economists had expected.

The housing market has been slowing this year under the combination of sharply higher mortgage rates and still-rising home prices. Still, the government’s latest snapshot of the new-home market was encouraging. Sales of new U.S. homes rose in October, while economists polled by FactSet expected a decline from September. Homebuilders gained ground. Lennar rose 1.6%.

The average rate on a 30-year mortgage edged lower for the second time in as many weeks, though it remains more than double what it was a year ago, a significant hurdle for many would-be homebuyers.

Technology stocks and some big retailers led the gains Wednesday. Chipmaker Nvidia rose 2.6% and Target rose 3.3%.

Farming equipment maker Deere gained 5.2% after reporting stronger financial results than analysts were expecting.

Crude oil prices fell 3.7% and weighed down energy stocks. Hess fell 2.3%.

Long-term Treasury yields fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which influences mortgage rates, slipped to 3.71% from 3.76%.

European markets closed mostly higher and Asian markets closed mixed overnight.

Trading has been unsteady during the holiday-shortened week, but major indexes are on track for weekly gains. U.S. markets will be closed Thursday for Thanksgiving and will close early on Friday.

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