Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Market update: Federal Reserve hikes short-term rates by 0.25% (26 September 2018)

The Federal Reserve increased short-term interest rates on Wednesday, as expected, raising the fed funds target range by 25 basis points to 2.00-2.25%.
  • Fed hikes interest rates, raises its economic outlook and drops 'accommodative' language
  • Fed's Powell: Lack of 'accomodative' language a sign policy inline with expectations

Stocks were up modestly ahead of the release of the Fed's decision, which crossed the wires at 2:00 PM ET, and extended gains after the central bank removed the word 'accommodative' from its policy statement. However, that initial move was reversed, and then some, following a post-decision press conference from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, during which he said the language change didn't signal a change in the Fed's path for rate hikes.

The S&P 500 was up as much as 0.5% on Wednesday but fell sharply in the final minutes of the session to finish with a loss of 0.3%. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite ended lower by 0.2%, the blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average finished lower by 0.4%, and the small-cap Russell 2000 lost 1.0%.

As for rate-hike projections, the Fed still appears to be on track to raise rates another 25 basis points in December, with the CME FedWatch Tool putting the chances at 79.2%. Beyond 2018, the Fed's dot plot showed expectations for three rate hikes in 2019 (unchanged from June) and one in 2020 (also unchanged from June).

U.S. Treasury yields fell following the Fed's policy announcement, although the 2-yr yield managed to close unchanged at 2.83%. The yield on the benchmark 10-yr Treasury note dropped four basis points to 3.06%. In currencies, the U.S. Dollar Index finished +0.2% at 93.90, but was volatile after the release.

The drop in Treasury yields weighed on the rate-sensitive financial sector, which finished at the bottom of the sector standings with a loss of 1.3%. The energy sector (-1.0%) was another notable laggard, dropping in tandem with the price of crude oil; WTI crude futures finished -1.0% at $71.58/bbl.

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