Stocks bounced early Wednesday as traders worked toward a less-desperate interpretation of the Federal Reserve's latest clues on the future of interest-rate policy. Index futures recently showed the S&P 500 trading 2 points above fair value, while the Nasdaq 100 was set for a 4-point gain. The 10-year Treasury bond was unchanged in price to yield 4.78%, while the dollar rose against the yen and fell against the euro. As expected, Ben Bernanke's Federal Open Market Committee raised official interest rates by a quarter-point to 4.75% Tuesday, the highest level since April 2001. The central bank has now carried out 15 consecutive hikes in an effort to keep inflation from torpedoing a three-year-old economic recovery that has coincided with a 47% rally on the S&P 500. For investors, the key question remains how many more times the Fed will tighten. Language retained in Tuesday's policy statement virtually ensures another quarter-point hike when the bank next convenes May 10. Beyond that, the jury is out, as the Fed's economic assessment seemed ambivalent. "As yet, the run-up in the prices of energy and other commodities appears to have had only a modest effect on core inflation, ongoing productivity gains have helped to hold the growth of unit labor costs in check, and inflation expectations remain contained," the Fed wrote. "Still, possible increases in resource utilization, in combination with the elevated prices of energy and other commodities, have the potential to add to inflation pressures." Stock investors ignored subtler distinctions in the announcement's immediate aftermath, selling down the Dow Jones Industrial Average 96 points Tuesday to a 11,154 close. The S&P 500 lost 8 points to 1293, while the Nasdaq Composite fell 11 points to 2034. Also pressuring stocks was a rally in oil futures, where speculative hedge fund trading has exacerbated moves that reflect concerns about worldwide supply constrictions. May crude added 3% to $66.07 Tuesday. In electronic Nymex trading, the front-month contract lost 32 cents to $65.75. To view David Peltier's video take on today's premarket action,
click here .
Later Wednesday, investors will see the Energy Department's weekly update on U.S. storage inventories. A Bloomberg survey is calling for a 1.5 million-barrel decline in gasoline inventories -- the fourth straight weekly fall -- and for a 1 million-barrel rise in crude stocks. The report hits at 10:30 a.m. EST. Also influencing Wednesday's market are expectations about two big economic reports later this week. On Thursday, the Commerce Department is expected to raise its estimate of fourth-quarter economic growth to 1.7% from 1.6% in its final revision to gross domestic product. On Friday, it is expected to say personal income rose 0.4% in February. Overseas markets were mostly higher, with London's FTSE 100 recently adding 0.6% to 5968, while Germany's Xetra DAX gained 0.1% to 5897. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei rose 1.5% overnight to 16,938, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng slipped 0.7% to 15,745. In corporate news, General Motors ( GM) used a federal filing Tuesday to expand on the scope of its earnings restatement, saying its accounting woes extend into GMAC, the financing arm that has been up for sale all year. GM said it will restate results at GMAC for three years ending in the third quarter of 2005 to correct the misclassification of certain mortgage loans. The automaker also said it isn't sure it will be able to sell GMAC, or how much money it could get for the unit if a buyer steps up. Red Hat's ( RHAT) fourth-quarter earnings doubled from a year ago to $27.3 million, or 13 cents a share, beating estimates by a penny. First-quarter guidance was slightly soft, however, and the shares fell 4% after hours. Tibco's ( TIBX) first-quarter earnings fell 46% from a year ago to $5.6 million, or 3 cents a share, including a hefty expense for stock options. Adjusted earnings of 6 cents a share were a penny ahead of forecasts.
Shares of Accenture ( ACN) fell 8% late Tuesday after the company took a $450 million charge to cover future losses related to a U.K. contract. Excluding the item, second-quarter earnings of 38 cents a share were better than expected.