FILE - In this June 18, 2019, file photo specialist Dilip Patel works at his post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The U.S. stock market opens at 9:30 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, July 10. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Tech sector leads US stocks higher as Fed signals rate cut

July 10, 2019 - 3:35 pm

Technology companies helped push U.S. stocks higher Wednesday afternoon, placing the Nasdaq composite on track for an all-time high.

The gains kicked off early as Wall Street welcomed new signals from the Federal Reserve that the central bank is ready to cut interest rates for the first time in a decade.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said that many Fed officials believe a weakening global economy and rising trade tensions have strengthened the case for a rate cut.

Powell's remarks, which he delivered as part of his semi-annual monetary report to Congress, allayed investors' concerns that an unexpectedly strong U.S. jobs report on Friday might give the Fed reason to stay put on interest rates.

"Investors are increasingly confident that the Fed will cut rates by a quarter-point at the end of the month, which most investors expected," said Kate Warne, chief investment strategist at Edward Jones. "This removed a little bit of the uncertainty there, and that's why we're seeing stocks move higher."

The market rallied through much of June after the Fed first signaled that it might cut rates if necessary to shore up the U.S. economy.

Wednesday's gains briefly sent the S&P 500 index trading above 3,000 for the first time before losing some of its momentum. The benchmark index set record highs three straight days last week.

Technology companies accounted for much of the market's gains. Micron Technology climbed 3.8% and Western Digital rose 4.7%. Communications services stocks and consumer goods makers also rose. Take-Two Interactive added 2% and PepsiCo picked up 1.8%.

Energy stocks also headed higher as the price of U.S. crude oil climbed 4%. Chevron rose 1.5%.

Bond prices rose sharply, sending the yield in the 10-year Treasury note down to 2.06% from 2.10% shortly before Powell's remarks were released at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time.

The drop in yields pulled bank shares lower. When bond yields decline they drive the interest rates that lenders charge for mortgages and other loans lower. Citizens Financial Group dropped 2.6%.

Industrials and materials stocks also lagged the market. Deere & Co. slid 2.1% and Corteva lost 1.6%.

KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 index rose 0.4% as of 3:27 p.m. Eastern time.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 79 points, or 0.3%, to 26,863. The Nasdaq added 0.7% and the Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks rebounded from a brief slide, gaining 0.3%.

Major stock indexes in Europe closed mostly lower.

SIGNALING A RATE CUT: Powell's testified before the House Financial Services Committee. On Thursday, he appears before the Senate Banking Committee.

His testimony comes at a time when the U.S. economic landscape is mixed. While the job market appears resilient and consumer spending and home sales look solid, the economy is likely slowing. And the U.S. trade disputes have added uncertainty to the economic outlook.

In his prepared statement, Powell said that since Fed officials met last month, "uncertainties around trade tensions and concerns about the strength of the global economy continue to weigh on the U.S. economic outlook." Meanwhile, inflation has fallen farther from the Fed's target.

The Fed's benchmark rate currently stands in a range of 2.25% to 2.5% after the central bank boosted rates four times last year. Many investors have put the odds of a rate cut this month at 100%.

A quarter-point cut in interest rates, which many investors expect, isn't likely to have a big impact on consumers' credit cards or mortgage rates. But it would reassure markets that the Fed would be open to further rate cuts if more signs of weakness in the global economy emerge, Warne said.

"Shifting from raising rates to lowering rates is a regime change," she said. "The second thing is we've already seen long-term interest rates come down partly in expectation of the rate cut."

SOLID QUARTER: Helen of Troy jumped 11.8% after reporting fiscal first-quarter results that topped Wall Street's forecasts. The company's brands include Hydro Flask, Oxo, Vicks and Revlon.

SLICK RESULTS: Shares in WD-40 climbed 8.9% after the seller of lubricants delivered fiscal third-quarter earnings and revenue that exceeded analysts' expectations.

NOT A GOOD LOOK: Levi Strauss slumped 12% after the jeans maker's latest quarterly report card showed its profit margins fell due to higher costs.

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