Stock futures drop to give back some gains

Stocks fell Wednesday to give back some gains after rising a day earlier, as investors contemplated the potential for the Federal Reserve to take an even more aggressive approach to reining in inflation.

[Click here to read what’s moving markets on Thursday, March 24]

The S&P 500 dipped after the index gained more than 1% on Tuesday. The Dow and Nasdaq each also opened lower. Crude oil prices resumed recent advances.

U.S. stocks have see-sawed between gains and losses this week as investors weighed Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s hawkish remarks from earlier this week. Powell, speaking at a National Association for Business Economics Conference on Monday, said the central bank would take “the necessary steps to ensure a return to price stability,” and would be willing to raise the benchmark interest rate by more than 25 basis points at a forthcoming meeting if deemed necessary to curb fast-rising prices.

These remarks — which came less than a week since Powell’s last public remarks at the end of the Fed’s last policy-setting meeting last Wednesday — were taken as a surprisingly quick shift in tone, highlighting the urgency key policymakers saw in addressing inflation.

“My belief going in, prior to [Monday] had been that the Federal Reserve truly in their heart of hearts believed that inflation is transitory in nature, and we will see it come down over the summer,” Jeff Klingelhofer, Thornburg Investment Management co-head of investments, told Yahoo Finance Live on Tuesday. “What we saw from Jerome Powell [Monday] is that his confidence is shaken.”

“If we have another high inflation print, I think the market will have to start pricing in the potential for 50 basis point rate hikes, even the potential for an inter-meeting hike, and a Fed that is truly scared of inflation being out of control,” he added.

The Fed last week raised interest rates for the first time since 2018, bringing the benchmark rate up by 25 basis points off near-zero levels. The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), as of last Wednesday, also telegraphed that its median member expected there would be another six quarter-point rate hikes this year.

Heading into this, stocks traded with heightened volatility throughout 2022 as investors priced in the potential that higher interest rates and otherwise tighter financial conditions would weigh on equity valuations. Uncertainty around the progression of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine has also remained a point of concern. Still, some strategists noted that investors have less to worry about at least in the near-term when it comes to the impact of the start of Fed hiking cycles.

“Equities tend to continue their upwards march in the nine months after the Fed begins to tighten, as the strong economy that enabled hikes supports growth,” Deutsche Bank strategists including Jim Reid, head of credit strategy and thematic research, wrote in a note. “After that, equities become more volatile and are more likely to experience a drawdown. Ten-year Treasury yields start increasing, sending their prices lower, but eventually flatten out and decline as markets put increasing probabilities on the next recession coming. History suggests we should not be worried about near-term impacts.”

Elsewhere, investors also continued to monitor developments in Russia’s war in Ukraine and the global response. President Joe Biden is set to travel to Brussels Wednesday before convening in a summit of all NATO allies, in a meeting that will set the stage for the announcement of more sanctions against Russia and greater humanitarian aid for Ukraine.

4:07 p.m. ET: Stocks end lower: Dow drops 449 points, or 1.3%, Nasdaq sheds 1.3%

Here were the main moves in markets as of 4:07 p.m. ET:

  • S&P 500 (^GSPC): -55.37 (-1.23%) to 4,456.24

  • Dow (^DJI): -448.96 (-1.29%) to 34,358.50

  • Nasdaq (^IXIC): -186.21 (-1.32%) to 13,922.60

  • Crude (CL=F): +$5.14 (+4.70%) to $114.41 a barrel

  • Gold (GC=F): +$25.90 (+1.35%) to $1,947.40 per ounce

  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): -5.2 bps to yield 2.3210%

2:40 p.m. ET: Madeleine Albright, the first female secretary of state, dies at 84

Madeleine Albright, who served as the first female secretary of state from 1997 to 2001 under former President Bill Clinton, died at age 84 on Wednesday.

Albright’s family confirmed her death in a statement. Prior to her tenure as secretary of state, she served as Clinton’s U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 1993 to 1997. She was awarded the Medal of Freedom by former President Barak Obama in 2012.

11:47 a.m. ET: Here are the best-performing stocks in the S&P 500 two years since the pandemic-era bottom

Wednesday marks the two-year anniversary since the S&P 500 hit its pandemic-era bottom, closing at 2,237.4 on March 23, 2020.

Since that date, the index has rallied just over 101%. And some components contributed more to that gain than others.

Tesla (TSLA) was the best-performing stock over the past two years, climbing more than 1040% since March 23, 2020. Devon Energy (DVN) followed by a margin with a jump of 881%. Free-port McMoran, Caesars Entertainment (CZR) and Marathon Oil (MRO) rounded out the top five.

On the other hand, a number of other stocks have underperformed. Viatris (VTRS) has been the biggest laggard over the two-year period, shedding 31%. Biogen (BIIB) has dropped 22%. And Clorox (CLX) — once one of the best-performing stocks early on during the pandemic — has dropped 20%.

10:09 a.m. ET: New home sales unexpectedly dropped in February

U.S. new home sales unexpectedly declined for a back-to-back month in February, underscoring some slowing housing activity and demand as rates moved higher and affordability became further squeezed.

New home sales fell 2.0% in February compared to January, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. This compared to an increase of 1.1% consensus economists were expecting, according to Bloomberg data. And in January, new home sales were downwardly revised to show an 8.4% drop — far greater than the 4.5% decline previously reported.

With the latest decrease, new homes sales were at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 772,000. This represented the lowest level since November 2021.

9:30 a.m. ET: Stocks open lower

Here’s where markets opened just after the opening bell:

  • S&P 500 (^GSPC): -24.67 (-0.55%) to 4,486.94

  • Dow (^DJI): -169.02 (-0.49%) to 34,613.89

  • Nasdaq (^IXIC): -110.42 (-0.78%) to 13,998.90

  • Crude (CL=F): +$113.45 (+3.83%) to $113.45 a barrel

  • Gold (GC=F): +$9.60 (+0.5%) to $1,931.10 per ounce

  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): -2.4 bps to yield 2.353%

8:10 a.m. ET: Mortgage applications drop by the most in a month as rates rise further

U.S. mortgage application volume dropped for a back-to-back week and posted the largest decline in a month amid the Federal Reserve’s first interest rate hike since 2018 and mounting expectations for higher rates.

An index tracking weekly mortgage applications dropped 8.1% during the week ended March 18, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) said Wednesday. This came after a 1.2% decline during the prior week. Refinances fell by 14% compared to the prior week and by 54% over the comparable period last year. Purchases were down 1% on a seasonally unadjusted basis week-on-week, and dropped 12% over last year.

“Rates on 30-year conforming mortgages jumped by 23 basis points last week, the largest weekly increase since March 2020. The jump in rates comes as markets moved to price in a much faster pace of rate hikes, as well as expectations of fewer MBS [mortgage-backed securities] purchases from the Federal Reserve,” Mike Fratantoni, MBA senior vice president and chief economist, said in a press statement.

“With mortgage rates now at 4.5%, compared to rates at or below 3% not that long ago, it is no surprise that refinance volume has dropped by more than 50% compared to this time last year,” he added. “MBA’s new March forecast expects mortgage rates to continue to trend higher through the course of 2022.”

7:31 a.m. ET Wednesday: Stock futures fall to give back some of Tuesday’s gains

Here’s where markets were trading Wednesday morning:

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): -19 points (-0.42%) to 4,486.00

  • Dow futures (YM=F): -119 points (-0.34%) to 34,590.00

  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): -97.75 points (-0.67%) to 14,556.25

  • Crude (CL=F): +$2.40 (+2.20%) to $111.67 a barrel

  • Gold (GC=F): +$9.60 (+0.50%) to $1,931.10 per ounce

  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): unchanged, yielding 2.377%

6:10 p.m. ET Tuesday: Stock futures open lower

Here’s where the major stock index futures opened Tuesday evening:

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): -2.25 points (-0.05%) to 4,402.75

  • Dow futures (YM=F): -10 points (-0.03%) to 34,699.00

  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): -12 points (-0.08%) to 14,642.00

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 16: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on March 16, 2022 in New York City. The Dow started off the day in positive territory, extending yesterday's rally.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MARCH 16: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on March 16, 2022 in New York City. The Dow started off the day in positive territory, extending yesterday’s rally. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter

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