August 5, 2021

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Dow, S&P 500 end higher after Powell stresses time not right to pull back Fed support

U.S. stock indexes closed mostly higher, near record territory Wednesday, after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell kicked off two days of testimony in which a sharp rise in inflation has been a key focus.

The Fed chief said the labor market, although improving, has a long way to go toward recovering from the pandemic, despite recent record high job openings.

Investors also watched the 10-year Treasury yield fall Wednesday and digested another batch of quarterly results from the nation’s largest financial institutions.

How did stock benchmarks do?
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average
    rose 44.44 points, or 0.1%, ending at 34,933.23, after briefly trading negative.

  • S&P 500 index
    gained 5.09 points, or 0.1%, closing at 4,374.30, after carving out a fresh intraday all-time high at 4,393.68 near the start of the session.

  • The Nasdaq Composite Index
    shed 32.70 points, or 0.2%, finishing at 14,644.95, after trading above its July 12 closing high at 14,733.24.

On Tuesday, the Dow fell 107.39 points, or 0.3%, to end at 34,888.79; the S&P 500 index declined 15.42 points, or 0.4%, to close at 4,369.21, and the Nasdaq Composite fell 55.59 points, or 0.4%, finishing at 14,677.65. The small-capitalization Russell 2000 index
dropped 1.9%.

What drove the market?

All eyes were on Fed Chair Powell Wednesday, in his first of two days of testimony before Congress about the state of the economy, easy monetary policies, skyrocketing U.S. home prices and the climbing cost of living.

Powell said low interest rates and a lack of supply contributed to the housing affordability crisis, but also stressed that fortunately the “reckless” and “irresponsible lending” practices that proliferated in run up to the 2008 financial crisis “are not happening, at least so far.”

Read: Powell plays down direct link of Fed’s purchases of mortgage bonds and the spike in home prices

The Fed chief also said rising house prices underscored the “uneven” nature of the U.S. economic recovery, while stressing that further improvements in the labor market would be needed for the central bank to start tightening monetary policy.

Powell also said discussions will remain ongoing in the coming months about a potential pathway to eventually tapering the Fed’s asset-purchase program, currently running at $120 billion a month.

Inflation worries were back in focus Wednesday after the June producer-price index came in hotter than expected, confirming that inflation is on the rise as the economy attempts to bounce back from the COVID pandemic. The PPI jumped 1% last month compared with analysts forecasts for a 0.6% rise. The pace of wholesale inflation over the past 12 months moved up to 7.3% from 6.6% in May. 

The PPI data followed higher consumer price inflation data on Tuesday which showed prices rose 5.4% in the year to June, the highest rate since 2008, when oil hit a record $150 a barrel.

Importantly, the central bank chief told the House Financial Services Committee, in his semiannual update to lawmakers Wednesday, that he was closely monitoring the current hot pace of inflation and that “we would absolutely change our policy,” if rising costs uprooted his expectations.

“The market has given them a vote of confidence,” said Robert Tipp, chief investment strategist at PGIM Fixed Income, about the Treasury market’s reaction to reassurances from Powell that the Fed will act, including by raising rates if needed, should runaway inflation take hold for a sustained period.

“We are passing the peak point of fear about inflation, and Treasury rates should begin to look ahead” to a moderating pace of inflation this year, he told MarketWatch.

The move lower in the 10-year Treasury yield on Wednesday reinforced Tipp’s earlier forecast that the benchmark Treasury yield will end 2021 below 1.5%, in part as markets adjust to expectations of lower, longer-term growth.

So far, most Fed members have not been flustered by the recent jump in inflation, like Powell, describing it as likely short-lived. San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly on Tuesday characterized the CPI print as just part of a temporary “pop” in inflation that won’t last.

The central bank’s latest Beige Book survey on the economy was released during Powell’s testimony Wednesday, showing the U.S. is growing faster, helped along by consumer spending, but with the recovery restrained by widespread labor and supply shortages.

Another concern has been climbing COVID cases in the U.S. and across the globe, driven by the highly transmittable delta variant and fueling concerns about unvaccinated adults infecting children.

Corporate earnings continued Wednesday, with BlackRock
and Bank of America
reporting revenue and profit that were better than forecast.

In Washington, President Joe Biden sounded upbeat about a deal reached by top Senate Democrats late Tuesday on a budget agreement that calls for spending $3.5 trillion on “human infrastructure,” efforts related to climate change and other Democratic priorities.

Separately Tuesday, a bipartisan group of senators continued working on a third measure that would spend around $1 trillion on roads, water systems and other infrastructure projects, another Biden priority.

Which companies were in focus?
  •  Estee Lauder Cos.
    shares rose 1.9% Wednesday after a two-notch ratings upgrade to “strong buy” from Raymond James, on stronger e-commerce sales.

  • Shares of Bank of America Corp.
    dropped 2.5% Wednesday, after the moneycenter bank reported a second-quarter profit that rose above expectations but revenue fell short, weighed by misses in the consumer banking and global markets businesses.

  • BlackRock Inc.
    stock fell 3.1% after it reported Wednesday second-quarter profit and revenue that rose above expectations, as assets under management increased 30% and net inflows topped $80 billion. 

  • Eli Lilly & Co. LLY shares rose 0.5% after it said Wednesday it is acquiring the shares of Protomer Technologies it doesn’t already own, in a deal it says has a potential value of more than $1 billion based on future development and commercial milestones.

  • Verso Corp. VRS, a specialty and packaging paper and pulp company, on Wednesday confirmed that it has received an unsolicited bid from Atlas Holdings LLC to take over the company for $20 a share in cash. Shares rose 2%.

  • Sight Sciences Inc. SGHT, is now set to go public at a valuation of more than $1 billion, after the expected pricing and number of shares to be offered in the California-based Ophthalmology and optometry company’s initial public offering were increased.

  • Apple
    shares jumped 2.4% after the company asked suppliers to ramp up production of its next-generation iPhones by 20%, according to a Bloomberg News report published late Tuesday.

How did other assets fare?
  • The yield on the 10-year Treasury note
    fell 5.9 basis points to 1.356%.

  • The ICE U.S. Dollar Index DXY, a measure of the currency against a basket of six major rivals, shed 0.4%.

  • Oil futures end sharply lower, with the U.S. benchmark CL00 off 2.8% at $73.13 a barrel. Gold futures GC00 advanced 0.8% to settle at $1,825 an ounce.

  • In European equities, the Stoxx 600 Europe SXXP closed 0.1% lower. London’s FTSE 100 UKX retreated 0.5%.

  • In Asia, the Hang Seng Index HSI gave up 0.6% in Hong Kong, while the Shanghai Composite SHCOMP fell 1.1% and Japan’s Nikkei 225 NIK closed 0.4% lower.