Wall Street hits new highs as banks soar on rate hike hopes, Dow breaches 21,000 mark

The New York Stock Exchange.
The New York Stock Exchange. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - US stocks hit record intraday highs on Wednesday, with the Dow breaching the 21,000 mark for the first time ever, as bank stocks surged on higher chances of an interest rate hike this month, while a more measured tone in President Donald Trump's speech reassured investors.

In his first address to a joint session of Congress late Tuesday, Trump said he wanted to boost the U.S. economy with a"massive" tax relief, make a US$1 trillion (S$1.41 trillion) effort on infrastructure and overhaul Obamacare.

His comments, though lacking in detail, helped underscore his pro-growth stance that has pushed Wall Street to record highs in a post-election rally.

However, the markets were more focused on comments on Tuesday from a handful of Federal Reserve officials, including the influential New York Fed President William Dudley, who said the case for tightening monetary policy had become "a lot more compelling".

The S&P 500 financial index soared 2 per cent, far outperforming the other 10 major sectors, led by gains in JPMorgan, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo.

The KBW Nasdaq Bank index was up 2.2 per cent, trading at its highest level since late 2007. "The markets are trading higher on the softer approach by the President," Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial wrote in a note.

"The dollar and yields are moving higher as next theme of the market, the 'Fed' overrides the Trump effect." The probability of a March rate hike jumped to 67.5 per cent from roughly 30 per cent after the comments from Fed officials, according to Thomson Reuters data. The central bank's policy-setting body meets on March 14-15.

The dollar jumped 0.79 per cent to mark its biggest one-day gain since Dec. 15, while gold prices fell.

Ms Yellen, who has said a rate increase could happen in an upcoming meeting, is scheduled to speak on Friday. Meanwhile, investors will closely watch Fed Board Governor Lael Brainard's comments on Wednesday for her take on rates.

At 9:34 a.m. ET (10:34 pm Singapore time) the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 198.2 points, or 0.95 per cent, at 21,010.44, the S&P 500 was up 19.1 points, or 0.80 per cent, at 2,382.74 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 47.22 points, or 0.81 per cent, at 5,872.66.

Among stocks, Lowe's jumped 9 per cent to $80.99 and was the biggest gainer on the S&P, after the home improvement chain issued an upbeat sales forecast for the year.

Mylan rose 8 per cent as the generic drugmaker reported a 31 per cent jump in quarterly revenue.

One weak spot was Intel, which was down 0.9 per cent and was the top drag on all three indexes after Bernstein downgraded the stock to "underperform" and cut its price target.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,901 to 825. On the Nasdaq, 1,939 issues rose and 410 fell.

The S&P 500 index showed 85 new 52-week highs and one new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 82 new highs and 11 new lows.