Stocks stumbled to a mixed finish yesterday as the Federal Reserve kept to its policy of gradual interest-rate increases, but provided little...
NEW YORK — Stocks stumbled to a mixed finish yesterday as the Federal Reserve kept to its policy of gradual interest-rate increases, but provided little new insight into the health of the economy.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 5.25 to close at 10,256.95. The Dow was down 46 points five minutes before the close, but surged into positive territory after the Fed amended its policy statement to add the wording about inflation being contained, which had been inadvertently omitted.
Microsoft, one of the 30 Dow stocks, added 13 cents to close at $25.36 a share. Boeing, also a Dow stock, gained 49 cents to $59.87.
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Broader stock indicators finished narrowly mixed. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was down 0.99 at 1,161.17. The Nasdaq composite index gained 4.42 at 1,933.07.
The Fed’s Open Market Committee announced a widely expected quarter-percentage-point increase in the nation’s benchmark lending rate, to 3 percent, and said future rate increases would remain “measured,” a phrase designed to ease investors’ fears of more-aggressive increases.
Most of the statement that accompanied the latest rate move was unchanged from the Fed’s March 22 meeting, stating that long-term inflationary pressures “remained well contained.” The central bank acknowledged that higher energy prices are starting to slow spending growth, but that wasn’t enough for the Fed to abandon its approach to rate boosts.
“It’s pretty much the same as last time, and it shows the Fed’s not overly pessimistic about the economy,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago. “The fact that they’re not changing their underlying longer-term strategy here adds a certain degree of comfort for investors.”
Falling crude prices gave a little support to stocks, with a barrel of light crude settling at $49.50, down $1.42, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Wall Street again received mixed messages on the economy, with U.S. factories showing a tiny 0.1 percent increase in orders last month, better than the large drop economists had forecast. However, the majority of orders were for consumable goods, while orders for big-ticket, durable items fell sharply — a sign consumers aren’t making the big purchases that fuel economic growth.
Thus, investors were looking to Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and his fellow policy-makers for a read on the economy and whether slower growth will outweigh concerns about inflation. For now, at least, the Fed seems more concerned about pricing pressures and the possibility of inflation taking hold rather than a short-term economic slowdown.
“People were thinking that the Fed would address the economy, maybe be a little more flexible on rates to allow the economy to get over the slowdown, but they obviously aren’t as concerned about that,” said Jack Caffrey, equity strategist for J.P. Morgan Private Bank.
While stocks have recovered modestly from a terrible April, Wall Street had been hoping that a strong, positive statement from the Fed would help stocks push upward even further. Uncertainty over the economy has kept stocks from moving substantially off their 2005 lows.
“It’s clear the economy is slowing, but investors want to know how much and how far,” said Hugh Johnson, chief investment officer at Johnson Illington Advisors in Albany, N.Y.
The Fed has steadily issued quarter-percentage-point rate increases since June, when the benchmark rate stood at just 1 percent.