Wall Street Wobbles As The Fed Is Still Uncertain About More Hikes To Rates

NEW YORK (AP) -- Wall Street is wobbling Friday after the head of the Federal Reserve said it's still uncertain where interest rates are heading.

The S&P 500 was 0.4% lower in midday trading after flipping between small gains and losses a few times. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 46 points, or 0.1%, at 34,052, as of 11 a.m. Eastern time, and the Nasdaq composite was 0.6% lower.

In a highly anticipated speech, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said again that it will make upcoming decisions on interest rates based on what incoming data reports say about inflation and the economy, and he made no promises about what's coming next.

Wall Street had the speech circled on calendars because it was hoping Powell would say the Fed was done with its hikes to interest rates, which grind down inflation at the cost of slowing the economy and hurting prices for investments.

Powell instead said the Fed may raise interest rates again, if needed. Even though inflation has come down from its peak last summer, Powell said it's still too high.

But he also took care to say he's aware of the risks of going too far on interest rates and doing "unnecessary harm to the economy."

"Given how far we have come, at upcoming meetings we are in a position to proceed carefully as we assess the incoming data and the evolving outlook and risks," Powell said.

One word of Powell's stood out in particular to Brian Jacobsen, chief economist at Annex Wealth Management, particularly as it relates to Powell's speech last year at the same Fed event. That speech in 2022 caused stocks to fall sharply.

"Carefully is the new forcefully," Jacobsen said. "Last year, Powell said the Fed would respond forcefully, and they sure did. Now they can tread carefully. Any adjustments to rates now will be more like fine tuning."

The Fed has already hiked its main interest rate to the highest level since 2001 in its drive to grind down high inflation. That was up from virtually zero early last year.

The much higher rates have already sent the manufacturing industry into contraction and helped cause three high-profile U.S. bank failures during the spring. They've helped to slow inflation, but a string of stronger-than-expected reports on the economy has raised worries that upward pressure remains. That could push the Fed to keep rates higher for longer.

Such expectations in turn have pushed the yield on the 10-year Treasury to its highest level since 2007. It rose to 4.27% from 4.24% late Thursday and from less than 0.70% three years ago.

High yields mean bonds are paying more in interest to investors. They also make investors less likely to pay high prices for stocks and other investments that can swing more sharply in price than bonds. Big Tech and other high-growth stocks tend to feel such pressure in particular.

The two-year Treasury, which more closely tracks expectations for the Fed, rose to 5.08% from 5.02% late Thursday. Traders see roughly a coin flip's chance that the Fed will hike its main interest rate again this year. That's up sharply over the last week, according to data from CME Group.

The threat of rates staying higher for longer has helped send stocks tumbling in August following what had been a gangbusters year. It also overshadowed a blowout profit report on Thursday from Nvidia, which has become one of Wall Street's most influential stocks. The chip maker again gave a stronger forecast for upcoming revenue than expected, giving hope that this year's frenzy around artificial-intelligence technology may be warranted.

Marvell Technology, another company that's been citing growth coming from AI, fell 8.6% following its profit report. Its results were a touch higher than analysts expected. Its stock had already rallied nearly 55% coming into the day.

On the winning side of Wall Street, Gap rose 6.5% after the retailer reported stronger profit for the latest quarter than analysts expected, though its revenue fell just shy of forecasts.

In markets abroad, stock indexes were modestly higher in Europe after tumbling across much of Asia.


AP Business Writers Yuri Kageyama and Matt Ott contributed.