Wall St ends lower after Fed holds rates steady, rules out March rate cut

By Stephen Culp

NEW YORK (Reuters) -U.S. stocks tumbled on the last trading day in January after the Federal Reserve held interest rates steady while dashing hopes for interest rate cut as soon as March.

The three major U.S. stock indexes were already weighed down by weakness in tech and tech-adjacent megacap stocks the day after disappointing Alphabet results.

All three extended losses after the Fed’s announcement and Chair Jerome Powell’s subsequent press conference. The S&P 500 closed with its steepest daily loss since Sept. 21.

All three indexes still notched gains for the month.

As expected, the Federal Open Markets Committee (FOMC) left its key policy rate unchanged at 5.25%-5.50% against a backdrop of gradually cooling inflation and a resilient economy.

In its statement, the FOMC said it “does not expect it will be appropriate to reduce the target range until it has gained greater confidence that inflation is moving sustainably toward 2%,” disappointing investors who had hoped for a quick dovish pivot.

“There were no surprises in the Fed statement,” said Oliver Pursche, senior vice president at Wealthspire Advisors, in New York. “It does appear that further rate hikes are off the table, which is a positive, but investors should continue to expect higher for longer as we’re still quite a ways away from the sort of economic data that would push the Fed to lower rates.”

The indexes gyrated move after Fed Chair Jerome Powell said the FOMC was confident it will be appropriate to reduce rates once it has confirmation inflation has been reined in, but effectively ruled out a March rate cut.

“The good news is we can forget about any more tightening,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at B. Riley Wealth in New York. “The bad news it’s ‘when’, not ‘if’, they’re going to cut rates, and that ‘when’ has been pushed out to what had been the fringes of consensus.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 317.01 points, or 0.82% , to 38,150.30, the S&P 500 lost 79.32 points, or 1.61%, to 4,845.65 and the Nasdaq Composite lost 345.88 points, or 2.23%, to 15,164.01.

All 11 major U.S. stock indexes ended red, with communication services and tech shares suffering the largest percentage losses.

Fourth quarter earnings season has shifted into overdrive, with nearly one in five companies in the S&P 500 slated to report this week.

Thus far, 176 have posted results. Of those, 80% have beaten expectations, according to LSEG.

Analysts now see aggregate fourth quarter S&P 500 earnings growth of 6.1% year-on-year, an improvement over the 4.7% forecast at the end of the quarter, per LSEG.

Alphabet Inc shares slid 7.5% the day after Google’s parent reported disappointing ad sales and projected an increase in capital spending to boost its artificial intelligence capabilities.

Microsoft Corp also forecast rising costs to develop AI features, but its quarterly results beat analyst expectations. Its shares were last off 2.7%.

Shares of New York Community Bancorp tumbled 37.7%, touching their lowest level in over two decades after posting a surprise loss and slashing its dividend. The KBW Regional Bank index slid 6.0%.

A spate of economic indicators released on Wednesday, including fourth quarter employment costs and ADP’s employment index, suggested some easing in the labor market, viewed by the Fed as a necessary precondition for bringing inflation down to its 2% annual target.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers by a 3-to-1 ratio on the NYSE. There were 326 new highs and 56 new lows on the NYSE.

On the Nasdaq 1,136 stocks rose and 3,160 fell as declining issues outnumbered advancers by about a 2.8-to-1 ratio.

The S&P 500 posted 59 new 52-week highs and 3 new lows while the Nasdaq recorded 132 new highs and 125 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was relatively heavy, with 13.3 billion shares traded, compared to an average of 11.5 billion shares over the previous 20 sessions.

(Reporting by Stephen Culp; Editing by David Gregorio)