Stocks are opening with solid gains on Wall Street Wednesday, led by technology stocks after Microsoft reported standout results for its latest quarter. The decisive move higher in early trading was a welcome relief following several days of volatile swings as investors try to gauge whether the Federal Reserve will succeed in its new effort to fight inflation.
The Fed releases its latest policy statement later Wednesday. It’s widely expected to continue drawing back its stimulus measures ahead of raising interest rates in the coming months. The S&P 500 rose 1.2% and the Nasdaq added 1.9%. Treasury yields held steady.
Overseas, markets in Europe showed strong gains, with France's CAC 40 and Germany's DAX each up more than 2%. Markets in Asia were mixed. Japan's Nikkei fell 0.4% while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index closed with a small gain.
With high inflation squeezing consumers and businesses, the Fed is expected to signal at the end of a two-day meeting Wednesday that it will raise its benchmark short-term interest rate in March. There is some concern on Wall Street that at a news conference, Fed Chair Jerome Powell could suggest that the central bank will raise rates more times this year than the four hikes most economists expect.
For nearly two years, investors had poured money into stocks, confident that the Federal Reserve would help keep share prices upright. With that support going away, markets have been hit with a bout of volatility. The S&P 500 is down 8.6% so far this year.
At the same time, tensions over the Russia and Ukraine tensions continue to grab attention.
Ukraine’s leaders have reassured their country that an invasion from neighboring Russia is not imminent but acknowledged the threat is real and received a shipment of U.S. military equipment to shore up their defenses.
Moscow has denied it is planning an assault, but it has massed an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine in recent weeks and is holding military drills at multiple locations in Russia. That has led the United States and its NATO allies to rush to prepare for a possible war.
“Market volatility remains elevated as investors are still feeling jittery over a very tense Ukraine-Russia situation, a whole range of inflationary issues that include a potentially aggressive Fed and a global chip problem that just won’t get any better,” Edward Moya of Oanda said in a commentary.
Meanwhile, the pandemic still hovers over the economy, threatening to crimp progress with every new wave of infections.
In China, reported local COVID-19 cases have dropped but some people are wary of infections spreading with next week’s Lunar New Year holiday and the Beijing Winter Olympics, which begin Feb. 4.
The International Monetary Fund earlier this week cited the omicron variant as the reason it has downgraded its forecast for global economic growth this year.
That is “consistent with disrupted and dampened recovery out of the pandemic," Mizuho Bank said in a report. “Rolling supply-chain kinks, troubling escalation and broadening of inflation, and stuttered re-opening due to the omicron variant of (COVID) are in the line-up of ‘usual suspects' for the dimmer recovery in 2022," it said.
In energy trading, benchmark U.S. crude added 20 cents to $85.80 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It jumped $2.29 to $85.60 a barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, the basis for pricing international oil, picked up 29 cents to $88.47 a barrel.
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