U.S. stocks gained for a third day, sending the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index to within two points of a record close, as Federal Reserve minutes indicated the central bank will continue to support the economy amid uneven gains in the labor market.
The S&P 500 added 0.3 percent to 1,986.50 at 4 p.m. in New York. The gauge touched 1,988.57, briefly surpassing its previous closing high of 1,987.98, before pulling back. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 60.11 points, or 0.4 percent, to 16,979.70. Trading in S&P 500 companies was 17 percent below the 30-day average for this time of the day.
“The Fed said if data points move toward their objectives faster than expected they’ll raise rates sooner than expected,” Todd Salamone, senior vice president of research at Cincinnati-based Schaeffer’s Investment Research, said. “That’s still a big ‘if.’”
Fed officials raised the possibility that an end to aggressive stimulus might occur sooner than anticipated while acknowledging continued slack in the labor market. The Fed is on pace to wind down its monthly bond purchases in October, and intends to keep the benchmark interest rate low for a “considerable time” after that.
The minutes said that “many participants” noted that if jobs data moved toward the committee’s objectives more quickly than expected, “it might become appropriate to begin removing monetary policy accommodation sooner than they currently anticipated.”
Chair Janet Yellen has committed monetary policy to stronger labor markets, which she measures with an array of indicators, so long as inflation remains in check. In their statement after the July 29-30 meeting, Fed officials downplayed recent declines in the unemployment rate, highlighting “significant underutilization of labor resources.”
Low inflation has given the Fed room to hold rates near zero even as economic growth shows signs of accelerating. Data yesterday showed inflation remains below the Fed’s target, while a report on Aug. 1 indicated employers added more than 200,000 jobs for a sixth straight month in July, the longest such period since 1997.
Yellen will speak on labor markets Aug. 22 at the annual Fed Bank of Kansas City’s economic symposium that begins tomorrow in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Policy makers including European Central Bank President Mario Draghi will also speak.
Three rounds of Fed stimulus and better-than-estimated corporate earnings have sent the S&P 500 higher by as much as 194 percent from its bear-market low on March 2009. The index has rebounded 4 percent since a three-month low on Aug. 7. The gauge tumbled as much as 3.9 percent from its all-time high on July 24 amid growing concern over global conflicts from Ukraine to Gaza and Iraq.
The S&P 500 has not had a decline of 10 percent in almost three years. The S&P 500 is trading at 17.8 times the reported earnings of its companies, near the highest level since 2010.
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