Wall St rebounds to end about flat after assurances from Fed's Jerome Powell

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NEW YORK (AFP) - US stocks bounced back after sharp early losses, to end Tuesday's (Feb 23) session largely stable following Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell pledging to keep interest rates low until inflation rises consistently.

The benchmark Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped nearly 350 points in early trading, but recovered to close with a scant gain of less than 16 points at 31,537.35, while the broad-based S&P 500 edged up 0.1 per cent to finish at 3,881.37.

But the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index fell another 0.5 per cent to 13,465.2.

Markets have become jittery about the prospects that the pandemic recovery - fueled by the US$1.9 trillion (S$2.5 trillion) economic stimulus package making its way through Congress - will ignite inflation leading to rising lending rates.

Investors have pushed yields on 10-year Treasury notes higher - a key red flag for rising prices and interest rates.

Art Hogan of National Securities said it was the speed of the increase in yields that surprised markets.

"It feels like there was a tipping point at which that became a concern for growth stocks. And the market reacted to that," he told AFP.

But he said rising yields are a signal the economy is poised to rebound, and "faster economic growth is likely to drive better earnings."

Powell agreed and tamped down inflation fears saying the Fed will keep the benchmark interest rate near zero until the economy reaches maximum employment and "inflation has risen to two percent and is on track to moderately exceed two percent for some time."

And he stressed that the Fed is prepared to handle whatever comes its way, so "if it does turn out that unwanted inflation pressures arising are persistent and we have the tools to deal with that."

He will have another opportunity to address the issues during his second day of testimony in Congress on Wednesday.

In individual stocks, Boeing fell 0.4 per cent after dozens of its 777 aircraft were grounded following an engine fire on a flight out of Denver which US regulators said could have been caused by metal fatigue.

Home Depot fell 3.1 per cent after reporting better than expected earnings.

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