Wall Street Under Pressure as Fed Rate Uncertainty Weighs

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Investors were squarely focused on the Federal Reserve’s next moves on interest rates as Wall Street kicked off the new week on a sour note. The major indexes pulled back on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average sliding nearly 1% to its lowest level in nearly a month.

The culprit? Rising Treasury yields across the board as expectations get muddled on when exactly the Fed will start cutting rates and by how much. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note climbed to a four-week high after an unexpectedly strong reading on U.S. consumer confidence.

This hits right at the heart of the stock market’s biggest preoccupation of late – will the Fed’s rate hiking campaign successfully tame inflation without severely denting economic growth? The conflicting signals have investors scratching their heads and selling stocks.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq retreated from Tuesday’s milestone close above 17,000, with pressure on megacap names like Microsoft, Alphabet, and Meta. The semiconductor index, a recent leadership group, dropped nearly 2%. Small-caps also got hit hard as the Russell 2000 fell over 1%.

Treasury yields climbing is a negative for valuations, especially in richly-valued sectors like tech. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), Wall Street’s fear gauge, spiked to its highest level since early May as rate concerns contributed to the market’s unease.

Investors began 2023 pricing in rate cuts as early as March, but sticky inflation readings and hawkish Fed rhetoric have walked back those expectations. According to the CME’s FedWatch Tool, traders are now only betting on a 25 basis point cut by November or December at the earliest.

The Fed’s “Beige Book” released Wednesday afternoon provided little clarity, depicting an economy expanding at a modest pace with elevated price pressures. Traders are now laser-focused on Friday’s Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) data, which is the Fed’s favored inflation metric.

Amid the cross-currents, there were pockets of strength driven by solid corporate news. Marathon Oil surged 8.7% after ConocoPhillips announced a $15 billion all-stock acquisition of the energy firm. DICK’S Sporting Goods and Abercrombie & Fitch also rallied double-digits after boosting their annual guidance.

But the broader market sold off, with declines across all eleven S&P 500 sectors. The airline industry was a notable laggard, with an airline stocks index tanking over 4% after American Airlines slashed its profit forecast.

For now, uncertainty continues to breed anxiety on Wall Street as investors attempt to gauge whether the Fed can orchestrate a long-hoped-for “soft landing” or if more turbulence is in store. All eyes will be laser-focused on upcoming inflation data and Fed speak for further clues on the path forward for interest rates.

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