The Federal Reserve turned unexpectedly hawkish last month, to Wall Street's shock.
The minutes from the central bank's April meeting, released Wednesday afternoon, suggested many members would be comfortable raising rates as soon as June, more quickly than even the most hawkish of economists' forecasts.
The shock triggered a volatile end to the session Wednesday with the Volatility Index (VIX.X) hitting its highest level in nearly two weeks. The S&P 500 rose 0.02%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 0.03%, and the Nasdaq gained 0.5%. Benchmark indexes had been in the green before the release of the minutes.
Fed members said a June hike is contingent on a stronger job market and signs inflation is "making progress" toward its 2% target. The central bank didn't have the initial second-quarter GDP estimate nor April's weaker job number to consider at the April meeting, though inflation data has improved somewhat since April.
With somewhat better economic data for April, from retail sales to consumer sentiment and manufacturing, the central bank's monetary policy committee members feel "as though to maintain credibility, they will have to hike well ahead of the election, and this may be the time that they can justify it best," said Stephen Guilfoyle, managing director of Deep Value Execution Services.
The chances of a June rate hike rose to 34% after the meeting from a 21% chance earlier in the session, according to CME Group futures trading. A July rate hike has a 50% chance.
The possibility of higher rates was a positive for banking stocks on Wednesday, pushing the financials sector to lead Wall Street. Major banks including Bank of America (BAC - Get Report) , Citigroup (C - Get Report) , JPMorgan (JPM - Get Report) , and Wells Fargo (WFC - Get Report) were in rally mode, while the Financial Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLF - Get Report) rose 1.8%.
The New York Stock Exchange resolved technical issues early Wednesday afternoon. The Wall Street exchange suffered a technical glitch on Wednesday morning, which had interfered with normal trading of 199 tickers. The Nasdaq and BATS stock exchanges declared self-help against the NYSE after the glitch closed open orders on the symbols, which included Agilent Technologies (A - Get Report) .
Crude oil was under pressure after the Energy Information Administration reported 1.3 million barrels of crude were added to inventories in the past week. The American Petroleum Institute had reported a decline of 1.1 million barrels a day earlier.
West Texas Intermediate crude oil closed 0.3% lower at $48.19 a barrel on Wednesday.
In earnings news, Lowe's (LOW - Get Report) topped quarterly earnings estimates and reporting an impressive 7.3% jump in same-store sales. Like rival Home Depot (HD - Get Report) , the do-it-yourself retailer has benefited from a robust housing market and customer appetite for home-improvement projects even as overall retail trends suffered at the start of the year.
Staples (SPLS) reported a decline in quarterly profit, though lowered expectations made for a better-than-expected first quarter. Net income fell 30% to $41 million as a $66 million pretax charge tied to its intended takeover of Office Depot (ODP - Get Report) ate into the bottom line. The takeover fell apart earlier this month amid antitrust concerns.
Target (TGT - Get Report) tumbled 7% to $67.39 after posting a challenging first quarter and issuing disappointing guidance for its current quarter. The retailer reported a 5.4% decline in sales, which CEO Brian Cornell blamed on "an increasingly volatile consumer environment." Second-quarter earnings guidance of $1 to $1.20 a share fell short of estimates of $1.36 a share.
"The stock's historically high relative discount to the S&P 500 now appears justified, and we fear management is struggling to simultaneously define its vision and manage shareholder expectations," said Jim Cramer and Jack Mohr, co-portfolio managers forAction Alerts PLUS, which owns Target shares. "We expect shares ... to ultimately trade into the low $60s."