U.S. stocks ended lower Wednesday, suffering a late selloff after minutes of the Federal Reserve’s March meeting showed policy makers plan to begin unwinding the central bank’s gigantic balance sheet before the end of the year.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA +2.18% , which had earlier been up nearly 200 points, closed with a loss of 41.09 points, or 0.2%, at 20,648.15, as 19 of the 30 blue-chip companies finished lower. Shares of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. /zigman2/quotes/205971034/composite JPM +1.19% , Cisco Systems Inc. /zigman2/quotes/209509471/composite CSCO +2.98% , and International Business Machines Corp. /zigman2/quotes/203856914/composite IBM +1.65% led decliners.
The S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +3.09% , which had been up 18 points earlier in the session, finished down 7.21 points, or 0.3%, at 2,352.95, with nine of its 11 main sectors closing lower with financials and telecom stocks leading decliners. Energy shares finished down 0.3% after leading gains earlier in the session.
The Nasdaq Composite Index /zigman2/quotes/210598365/realtime COMP +4.41% , which had reached an all-time intraday high of 5,936.39, closed down 34.13 points, or 0.6%, to 5,864.48.
At first, the broader market retreated slightly from intraday highs after the Federal Reserve released minutes from its March meeting, noting plans to reduce its $4.5 trillion balance sheet this year and that some Fed members thought stock prices were “quite high relative to standard valuation measures.”
But that downturn steepened by the end of the trading day. Investors were expecting Treasury to sell off, sending yields higher, following the Fed minutes, but that did not happen, noted Ian Winer, head of equities at Wedbush Securities, in an interview.
“People wanted more hawkish comments out of the Fed and instead got a ho-hum ‘stocks are too high’ commentary,” Winer said. “We’re still dealing with the uncertainty of policy but the Fed didn’t give any reason to sell bonds. By the close, the yield on the 10-year Treasury /zigman2/quotes/211347051/realtime BX:TMUBMUSD10Y +0.63% was down 3 basis points at 2.336%, after being as high as 2.382% earlier in the session.
Investors, on the whole, have cooled to buying stocks and other assets perceived as risky in the wake of President Donald Trump’s failure to pass a health-care bill, demonstrating to skeptics his inability to implement new pro-growth legislation, he said.
Recently, data sent mixed signals to investors caught between the hope that Trump’s pro-business policies will come to fruition and the reality that these things may not find easy passage in Washington and will take time, said Winer.
Market strategists said if jobs numbers continue to come in strong, the Fed may have more confidence in raising rates at a faster pace. Currently, the market is pricing in two more rate increases this year, in line with the Fed’s so-called dot plot, which charts officials expectations for future rate increases.
Earlier in the session, stocks rallied on data that employers added 263,000 private-sector jobs in March, up from a revised 245,000 in February, according to payrolls firm ADP. Many economists look at the ADP report to get the feel for the official nonfarm payrolls due on Friday, though the figures aren’t always a reliable guide.
Markets appeared to shrug off geopolitical news coming from North Korea, which launched another intermediate-range missile, and a chemical attack in Syria that left hundreds dead. There was also little reaction to news that Jeffrey Lacker, a hawkish policy maker who isn’t a voting member of the Federal Open Market Committee, dramatically quit on Tuesday after disclosing he leaked confidential material on the central bank’s plans.
The two-day summit between Trump and China’s President Xi was still in focus for investors, who are looking for clues on ramifications for trade and the dollar. Xi’s visit to Mar-a-Lago in Florida begins Thursday.