Thursday, 31 March 2016

Interest rate optimism pushes Wall Street higher

U.S. stocks pushed further into positive territory for 2016 on Wednesday, helped for a second session by comments from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen that eased anxiety about potential interest rate hikes.

MetLife and other financial stocks led the market higher while the S&P energy sector .SPLRCU was down marginally after crude prices retreated from their day's highs after a report showed a weekly build in U.S. crude inventories.

Yellen said on Tuesday the U.S. central bank should proceed cautiously as it looks to raise interest rates. On Wednesday, her comments were echoed by Chicago Fed PresidentCharles Evans, who said there was a high hurdle to raising rates in April, given low inflation.

Those comments soothed investors worried about a slow global economy, a strong dollar, volatile oil prices and lackluster top-line growth at U.S. companies.

"The market's best friend continues to be the Fed and central banks around the world," said Jeff Carbone, co-founder of Cornerstone Financial Partners in Charlotte, North Carolina. "Investor appetite for risk has increased."

Central banks 'running out of time' to reflate economies: Bill Gross.

Higher interest rates are generally bad for stocks because they reduce lending and investment and make it harder for companies to expand. A sputtering global economy and strong dollar have already been causing earnings of U.S. companies to shrink and many investors want the Fed to hold off raising rates until after its meetings in April and June.

The S&P 500 .SPX gained 0.44 percent to 2,063.97 points, bringing its gain for 2016 to about 1 percent.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was up 0.42 percent at 17,707.76 points and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 0.49 percent to 4,870.15.

MetLife's shares rose 4.7 percent after a court ruled that the life insurer was not systemically important to the country's financial system. The tag "too big to fail" requires more stringent regulations.

Fellow insurers AIG (AIG.N) and Prudential Financial (PRU.N) added more than 1 percent.

Apple (AAPL.O) rose 1.9 percent after Cowen & Co raised its rating on the stock to "outperform". The stock gave the biggest boost to the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 2,033 to 956. On the Nasdaq, 1,858 issues rose and 928 fell.

The S&P 500 index showed 54 new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 69 new high and 19 new lows.


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