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Nasdaq closes at record amid Fed policy update, stimulus negotiations

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  • US equities wavered on Wednesday as investors mulled the Federal Reserve’s policy update, disappointing economic data, and progress toward passing new stimulus. 
  • Congressional leaders are close to agreeing on a stimulus package that includes just under $900 billion in relief funds, Politico reported. A deal could be finalized as early as Wednesday morning.
  • Spending at US retailers contracted by 1.1% in November, the Census Bureau said Wednesday. Economists had expected a drop of just 0.3%. October’s preliminary 0.3% gain was revised to a 0.1% drop.
  • The Federal Open Market Committee decided to hold interest rates near zero and maintain the current pace and composition of its asset purchases. Improved economic projections from Fed policymakers see US GDP staging a complete recovery by the end of 2021.
  • Watch major indexes update live here.

US stocks closed mixed on Wednesday as investors digested the Federal Reserve’s December update and stimulus progress. While the Nasdaq composite index finished at a record and the S&P 500 ended up just shy of all-time highs, the Dow Jones industrial average slid.

The Federal Open Market Committee decided to hold rates near zero and maintain the current pace and composition of their asset purchases. Policymakers indicated the $120 billion in monthly purchases will continue until “substantial further progress” is made toward reaching maximum employment and healthy inflation.

Economic projections from Fed officials were revised higher. The central bank’s median estimate sees GDP growing 4.2% in 2021, completely offsetting this year’s pandemic-induced slump. Unemployment is expected to fall to 5% through 2021 and reaching pre-pandemic lows in 2023.

Here’s where US indexes stood at the 4 p.m. ET close on Wednesday:

Read more: Fund manager Brian Barish has returned more than 550% to investors over 2 decades, and he just had 2 of his best years ever. He told us how he did it — and 3 top picks for the next 5 years.

Rising tech stocks boosted the S&P 500 and Nasdaq composite. Utilities and industrials underperformed.

Congressional leaders inched closer to compromising on a nearly $900 billion stimulus proposal, Politico reported. It’s expected to omit pandemic-related liability protections for businesses and aid for state and local governments, the two most contentious elements under discussion. More-popular measures including a second round of direct payments and small-business relief are set to be included.

A deal could be finalized as early as Wednesday morning, sources briefed on the negotiations told Politico. Lawmakers have until the end of the week to pass new fiscal support and a funding bill before a government shutdown.

The leap forward in stimulus talks cushioned the blow from retail-sales data that was worse than expected. Spending at US retailers contracted by 1.1% in November, the Census Bureau said Wednesday. Economists had expected sales to fall by 0.3%.

October’s reading was revised to a 0.1% drop from the preliminary reading of 0.3% growth.

The report snapped a five-month growth streak for retail sales and signaled that strong e-commerce spending on

Black Friday
wasn’t enough to offset weakness throughout the month. US coronavirus cases reached record highs in November, and some states and local governments reinstated lockdown measures to slow the virus’ spread. With COVID-19 still raging across the country, the Wednesday reading hints at economic pain heading into the new year.


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“These data are materially weaker than expected so you should expect to see downward revisions to fourth-quarter growth. And the risk of an outright contraction in GDP in the first quarter is increasing,” said Ian Shepherdson, the chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

Elsewhere in economic data, IHS Markit’s flash composite of US business activity fell to a three-month low amid stricter lockdown measures. The firm’s gauge of service-industry activity dipped to 55.3 from 58.4, while its manufacturing index only fell 0.2 points to 56.5.

“While vaccine developments mean some of the cloud caused by the pandemic should lift as we head through 2021, rising case numbers continue to darken the near-term outlook,” Chris Williamson, the chief business economist at IHS Markit, said in a statement.

Wish parent company ContextLogic tumbled in its first day of public trading. The firm raised $1.1 billion in its initial public offering. The post-IPO slide sharply contrasts from the debut rallies staged by Airbnb and DoorDash last week.

Aphria and Tilray soared after the firms announced plans to merge to form the world’s largest cannabis company. The combined entity would boast a valuation of roughly $3.9 billion and industry-leading revenue of $685 million over the past 12 months.

Read more: BlackRock shares its 12 top recommendations for a ‘new investment order’ in 2021 — and says the pandemic should prompt investors to completely rethink how they construct portfolios

Bitcoin surged above $20,000 for the first time, hitting a 24-hour high of $20,890.11. The cryptocurrency nearly breached the resistance level earlier in the month before profit-taking dragged it from all-time highs.

Gold gained as much as 0.7%, to $1,865.82 per ounce.

The US dollar declined versus the majority of its Group-of-10 peers following the Fed’s policy update. Treasury yields climbed.

Oil prices rose slightly. West Texas Intermediate crude gained as much as 0.7%, to $47.94 per barrel. Brent crude, oil’s international benchmark, climbed 0.9%, to $51.20 per barrel, at intraday highs.

Now read more markets coverage from Markets Insider and Business Insider:

Bank of America highlights its top 8 stock picks in the booming housing sector — and explains why the idea that people are fleeing cities because of the pandemic is overblown

US manufacturing output beats November estimates as car factories continue to shine through the pandemic

The upcoming Fed meeting could shed light on when policymakers will unwind key relief measures

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