S&P 500's rally ends after Fed; Facebook soars late

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - United States (US) stocks fell on Wednesday, with the S&P 500 snapping a four-day streak of gains after the Federal Reserve said it had a weaker growth outlook for the economy, even as it held steady with its stimulus program for the time being.

Trading was volatile following the release of the statement, with the major US stock indexes cutting losses to turn flat and dropping to session lows. Almost 70 per cent of stocks on both the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq declined, while all 10 S&P 500 sector indexes fell.

While it had been widely expected that the US central bank wouldn't announce any adjustments to its bond-buying program, the statement wasn't enough to extend a rally that has driven both the Dow and the S&P 500 to repeated record highs, including in early trading on Wednesday.

"While there were essentially no changes between this statement and previous ones, it is clear that even this wasn't as dovish as some investors were expecting, especially with the bull market getting a bit long in the tooth," said Mr Michael Mullaney, who oversees about US$10.7 billion (S$13.26 billion) as chief investment officer of Fiduciary Trust Co in Boston.

While the Fed's stimulus has kept a floor under stock prices this year, there have been signs that growth is slowing, including weak economic data and an earnings season marked by tepid revenue growth.

In trading following the market's close, Facebook Inc soared 9.7 per cent to $53.78 after the social networking company reported revenue that was stronger than expected. Expedia Inc surged 18 per cent to $58.50 after reporting its results.

On the downside, Starbucks Corp shares fell 2.8 per cent to $78.60 after the bell because the world's biggest coffee chain gave a 2014 profit outlook that was below expectations.

The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 61.59 points, or 0.39 per cent, to end at 15,618.76. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index dropped 8.64 points, or 0.49 per cent, to finish at 1,763.31. The Nasdaq Composite Index fell 21.72 points, or 0.55 per cent, to close at 3,930.62.

The Dow industrials hit a record intraday high of 15,721 shortly after Wednesday's opening bell, while the S&P 500 also reached a lifetime intraday high of 1,775.22 early in the session.

Many analysts expect the Fed to delay until at least March in easing the stimulus measures that have encouraged investors to buy riskier assets, like stocks, contributing to the S&P 500's gain of more than 20 per cent this year.

The central bank has held interest rates near zero since late 2008 and quadrupled the size of its balance sheet to more than US$3.7 trillion through three rounds of bond buying.

Private-sector employers hired the fewest workers in six months in October, according to a report released on Wednesday, while the US consumer price index showed benign inflation.

Both indicators supported the Fed's stimulus policy.

In the latest batch of earnings, General Motors Co rose 3.2 per cent to $37.23 after the U.S. automaker reported stronger-than-expected quarterly profit because of strength in its core North American market and a smaller-than-anticipated loss in Europe.

On the downside, Yelp Inc dropped 2.6 per cent to $67.05 a day after it reported a wider third-quarter loss, while Western Union shares slid 12.4 per cent to $16.85 after the company posted a steep drop in third-quarter earnings.

"Earnings haven't been amazing, but they've been steady and sustainable, which the market likes enough to help us reach all-time highs," said Mr Andres Garcia-Amaya, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Funds in New York, which has US$400 billion in assets under management.

"When the season ends and we focus on the macro again, that probably won't be good for the market." Of the 313 companies in the S&P 500 that had reported earnings through Wednesday morning, 68.4 per cent have topped Wall Street's expectations, above both the 63 per cent beat rate since 1994 and the 66 per cent rate for the past four quarters, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Revenue performance has been mixed, however, with 53.7 per cent of S&P 500 companies beating expectations, well below the 61 per cent average since 2002, but slightly above the 49 per cent rate for the last four quarters.

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