NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Stock markets didn't react well to a tight-lipped statement from the Federal Reserve that gave no clear signal as to when it would begin to hike interest rates. January's meeting announcement came with no accompanying press conference, leaving investors to comb the wording for clues as to when a rate hike could occur.
"From the equity market perspective, this might be the least helpful the Fed has been," said Brean Capital's Peter Tchir. "They didn't even find a way to work 'considerable' language into this."
Few economists expected any significant change in tone this month, particularly after Fed Chair Janet Yellen told investors in December that policy would remain unchanged until at least a couple of meetings.
But rather than celebrating the Fed kicking the rate hike can a little further down the road, the announcement's vagueness has spooked Wall Street.
"You have a glass half-empty reaction on the stock market," said George Rusnak, co-head of global fixed income for Wells Fargo Investment Institute. "The stock market, as much as it likes potentially pushing off interest rate rises, also realizes if [the Fed is] going to do that they're doing that for a reason. The reasons would typically be either signals of slowing growth or potential fears over disinflation."
The S&P 500 closed 1.2% lower, and the Nasdaq dropped 0.73%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 1.1%, or 193 points.
The U.S. central bank reiterated its pledge to remain "patient" in normalizing policy, echoing its previous statement a month earlier.
"The canary in the coal mine here continues to be the word 'patient'," said U.S. Bank's Dan Farley. "If they're going to raise in June, we would expect that the word 'patient' would be dropped in the March meeting."
Crude oil prices slipped on Wednesday as U.S. inventories increased 8.9 million barrels over the week, nearly double estimates of 4.6 million barrels. West Texas Intermediate crude dropped 4.1% to $44.33 a barrel.
Goldman Sachs warned commodities will lag equities and bonds over the next three months. The bank slashed its outlook on raw materials to "underweight," with expectations of a 10% loss compared to a 0.4% gain for stocks.
"Despite the large declines in commodity prices, we see risks still skewed to the downside over the near term," Goldman analysts wrote in a report.
Exxon Mobil (XOM) - Get Exxon Mobil Corporation Report , Chevron (CVX) - Get Chevron Corporation Report , Anadarko Petroleum (APC) - Get Anadarko Petroleum Corporation Report and Halliburton (HAL) - Get Halliburton Company (HAL) Report extended losses despite the Fed referring to lower energy prices as "transitory" in its announcement. The Energy Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLE) - Get Energy Select Sector SPDR Fund Report dropped 3.8%.
Solid earnings from Apple (AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. (AAPL) Report and Yahoo! (YHOO) were a welcome relief after weak results from multinational companies such as Procter & Gamble (PG) - Get Procter & Gamble Company Report and Caterpillar (CAT) - Get Caterpillar Inc. Report .
"While the United States is not an export-driven economy, many of its largest companies rely heavily on outside markets and they will inevitably be hurt by a stronger dollar and global stagnation," noted CRT Capital Group's Ian Lyngen.
The earnings season has been healthy so far, despite the series of earnings disappointments on Tuesday that might have suggested otherwise. Of the nearly one-third of companies that have reported, 70.3% have exceeded analysts' earnings forecasts, according to Thomson Reuters. On average, during any given earnings season, 63% of companies will top expectations.
Apple shares soared more than 6% after fiscal first-quarter earnings of $3.06 a share rocketed past expectations by 45 cents. Sales jumped nearly 30% following a surge in iPhone sales, its best-selling product.
Yahoo! narrowly beat fourth-quarter forecasts. Management also announced it had authorized the tax-free spinoff of its remaining stake in Alibaba (BABA) - Get Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Sponsored ADR Report . Yahoo! currently holds a 15% position, worth $39.5 billion.
Semiconductor company Freescaleundefined rallied 18.3% after reporting quarterly profit above consensus and guiding for first-quarter revenue as high as $1.185 billion, exceeding forecasts of $1.11 billion.
-- Written by Keris Alison Lahiff in New York.