Stocks rally as Fed eases rate worry, tech climbs

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Feb 22, 2018.
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Feb 22, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - US stocks rallied on Friday (Feb 23), lifted by gains in technology stocks and a retreat in Treasury yields as the Federal Reserve eased concerns about the path of interest rate hikes this year.

The US central bank, looking past the recent stock market sell-off and inflation concerns, said it expected economic growth to remain steady and saw no serious risks on the horizon that might pause its planned pace of rate hikes.

Investors largely expect the Fed to raise rates three times this year, beginning with its next meeting in March, the first under new Chair Jerome Powell. Traders currently see a 95.5 per cent chance of a quarter-percentage-point hike next month, according to Thomson Reuters data.

"Certainly bond yields pulling back today is helpful for stocks, at least for the short term, that has been the narrative that is out there - that higher bond yields are weighing on stocks and this preoccupation with three percent," said Willie Delwiche, investment strategist at Baird in Milwaukee.

"So moving away from that, for today at least, provides a bid for equities." Powell's first public outing will be on Tuesday, when he will testify separately before the House and Senate committees.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 347.51 points, or 1.39 per cent, to 25,309.99, the S&P 500 gained 43.34 points, or 1.60 per cent, to 2,747.30 and the Nasdaq Composite added 127.30 points, or 1.77 per cent, to 7,337.39.

Benchmark 10-year US Treasury notes last rose 13/32 in price to yield 2.8714 per cent, from 2.917 percent late on Thursday.

The dip in yields helped boost bond proxy sectors such as utilities, up 2.66 per cent, and real estate, up 1.72 per cent. The sectors have been among the worst performers so far this year on expectations of climbing rates.

Tech shares climbed 2.17 per cent led by gains in Hewlett Packard Enterprise, which rose 10.5 per cent and HP Inc, up 3.5 per cent.

The two companies created from the split of Hewlett Packard Co in 2015, reported strong results and HPE also announced a plan to return US$7 billion (S$9.2 billion) to shareholders.

For the week, the Dow rose 0.37 per cent, the S&P advanced 0.56 per cent and the Nasdaq gained 1.35 per cent.

Blue Buffalo Pet Products jumped 17.23 per cent after General Mills said it would buy the natural pet food maker for US$8 billion. General Mills was the biggest percentage decline on S&P 500, falling 3.59 per cent.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 4.54-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.82-to-1 ratio favoured advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 10 new 52-week highs and one new low; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 64 new highs and 57 new lows.

Volume on US exchanges was 6.05 billion shares, well below the 8.38 billion average over the last 20 trading days.