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Major Averages Finish Choppy Trading Day Modestly Higher - U.S. Commentary


Following the relatively lackluster performance in the previous session, stocks continued to experience choppy trading on Wednesday. The major averages spent the day bouncing back and forth across the unchanged line.

Eventually, the major averages ended the day modestly higher. The Dow rose 63.12 points or 0.2 percent to 25,954.44, the Nasdaq inched up 2.30 points or less than a tenth of a percent to 7,489.07 and the S&P 500 edged up 4.94 points or 0.2 percent to 2,784.70.

The choppy trading came as traders digested the minutes of the latest Federal Reserve meeting, which provided further insight into the central bank's decision to change the forward guidance language and indicate a patient approach to raising interest rates.

The minutes described the Fed's discussions regarding changing the language in its statement from referencing "further gradual increases" in rates to a sentence indicating patience.

Meeting participants pointed to a variety of considerations that supported a patient approach to monetary policy as an appropriate step in managing various risks and uncertainties in the outlook.

The Fed said additional data would help policymakers gauge the trajectory of business and consumer sentiment, whether the recent softness in core and total inflation and inflation compensation would persist, and the effect of the tightening of financial conditions on aggregate demand.

Information arriving in coming months could also shed light on the economic impact of the prolonged government shutdown as well as the results of budget negotiations occurring in the wake of the shutdown, including the possible implications for the path of fiscal policy, the Fed said.

"A patient approach would have the added benefit of giving policymakers an opportunity to judge the response of economic activity and inflation to the recent steps taken to normalize the stance of monetary policy," the minutes said.

The minutes said a patient posture would also allow time for a clearer picture of the international trade policy situation and the state of the global economy to emerge.

In light of a range of uncertainties associated with global economic and financial developments, the Fed also decided that it was not useful to express a judgment about the balance of risks.

However, many participants observed that if recent uncertainty eases, the Fed would need to reassess the characterization of monetary policy as "patient" and might then use different statement language.

The minutes of the January meeting also showed officials discussed a plan to end the reduction of bonds on the Fed's balance sheet before the end of 2019

"Almost all participants thought that it would be desirable to announce before too long a plan to stop reducing the Federal Reserve's asset holdings later this year," the Fed said.

The central bank added, "Such an announcement would provide more certainty about the process for completing the normalization of the size of the Federal Reserve's balance sheet."

Traders also seemed reluctant to make significant moves as they wait for developments regarding the latest round of trade talks between the U.S. and China.

Officials from the U.S. and China are meeting in Washington this week as the world's two largest economies attempt to reach a long-term trade deal.

Sector News

Most of the major sectors ended the day showing only modest moves, although tobacco stocks showed a substantial move to the upside.

Reflecting the rally by tobacco stocks, the NYSE Arca Tobacco Index spiked by 3.3 percent to its best closing level in over three months.

Chemical and steel stocks also saw considerable strength on the day, with the S&P Chemical Sector Index and the NYSE Arca Steel Index both advancing by 1.7 percent.

While some strength was also visible among banking, natural gas, and gold stocks, software, retail and biotechnology stocks moved lower.

Other Markets

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region moved mostly higher during trading on Wednesday. Japan's Nikkei 225 Index rose by 0.6 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index jumped by 1 percent.

The major European markets also moved to the upside on the day. While the German DAX Index advanced by 0.8 percent, the French CAC 40 Index and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index both climbed by 0.7 percent.

In the bond market, treasuries showed a lack of direction before ending the session roughly flat. As a result, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note, which moves opposite of its price, inched up by less than a basis point to 2.654 percent.

Looking Ahead

A slew of economic data is likely to attract attention on Thursday, with traders likely to keep an eye on reports on weekly jobless claims, durable goods orders, and existing home sales.

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