Stocks held gains Wednesday afternoon after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said the case for a rate increase had strengthened.
The S&P 500 was up 0.45%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.3%, and the Nasdaq gained 0.46%.
Yellen noted in a press conference after the Fed's September meeting that economic growth had shown signs of recovery after a slowdown earlier in the year. Yellen reiterated a cautious approach to future rate increases and said that any moves would be gradual to achieve and maintain the central bank's objectives.
"We've found the economy has a bit more running room," Yellen said at the press conference. "Nevertheless, we don't want the economy to overheat and if things continue on the current course, I think that some gradual increases will be appropriate. Mainly, what we discussed today were issues affecting the timing of such increases."
The Fed held the target range for the federal funds rate at crises-levels of 0.25% to 0.5%. The Fed said the case for an increase to the fed funds rate had strengthened but decided to wait for further evidence that the economy was progressing toward its inflation and labor market objectives. Members said near-term risk to the economic outlook remains roughly balanced.
"The Committee judges that the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has strengthened but decided, for the time being, to wait for further evidence of continued progress toward its objectives," according to the Fed's statement. "The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative, thereby supporting further improvement in labor market conditions and a return to 2% inflation."
Kansas City Fed President Esther George, Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester, and Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren each called for a rate increase at the meeting. George was the sole dissenter at the previous meeting at the end of July.
The chances of a rate hike in September sat at 18% heading into the day's meeting, according to CME Group fed funds futures. Most analysts are betting on a rate hike in December, which has a 48% likelihood. September's chances were low given recent industrial, retail and inflation numbers, though hawkish rhetoric from Fed members introduced a degree of uncertainty.
"The recent economic news has been OK, but not quite good enough," said Paul Eitelman, Multi-Asset Investment Strategist at Russell Investments. "Global concerns such as China's wobbling economy and the continued uncertainty from Brexit no doubt played a role in the Fed's thinking, as well. We still believe that U.S. interest rates are likely to go up in December."
Crude oil jumped rose Wednesday after the latest weekly reading on U.S. inventories showed a major decline of 6.2 million barrels. Worries over domestic oversupply and international production at records have dragged on crude prices over the past two years.
West Texas Intermediate crude oil added 2.4% to close at $45.34 a barrel on Wednesday.
The Bank of Japan didn't introduce further stimulus on Wednesday, though did introduce a new 10-year interest rate target following an internal review of its current policies. The new "yield curve control" program will keep long-term yields at around 0% as a means to achieve 2% inflation and price stability.
The central bank also maintained its current negative interest rate of minus 0.1%, a measure it adopted in January designed to spur economic growth by boosting business and consumer lending.
Adobe (ADBE) rose 7% after topping earnings and sales estimates in its recent quarter. The software company earned 75 cents a share, 2 cents higher than expected. Revenue climbed nearly 20% to $1.46 billion, edging past estimates by $10 million.
KB Home (KBH) climbed following a mixed third quarter. The homebuilder earned 42 cents a share, besting forecasts by 3 cents. Revenue of $913.3 million came in 8.3% higher than a year earlier, but missed estimates by nearly $31 million. Hopes were higher heading into the quarter as the U.S. housing sector benefits from strong demand and constricted supply.
Target (TGT) rose nearly 1% after authorizing a new $5 billion stock repurchase program. The retailer will begin the new buybacks once it repurchases $1.2 billion worth of stock currently remaining in its $10 billion buyback program. Target also announced a quarterly dividend of 60 cents a share, payable on December 10 to shareholders of record on November 16.
Microsoft (MSFT) added 1% after hiking its quarterly dividend to 39 cents a share from 36 cents. The tech company also authorized a $40 billion buyback program. Microsoft will complete its current $40 billion program, set in September 2013, by the end of the year.
General Mills (GIS) was under pressure after reporting weaker sales than anticipated in its fiscal first quarter. The packaged foods company reported a 7.1% decline in quarterly revenue, while organic sales slid 4%. Retail sales in the U.S. declined 8%, dragged on by a 12% decline in volume. CEO Ken Powell said the company's sales performance did not meet "expectations due to the challenging macro environment, a difficult year-over-year comparison, and a slower start to the year on certain businesses."
FedEx (FDX) moved 6.4% higher after beating analysts' estimates over its fiscal first quarter. The delivery company earned $2.90 a share, coming in 12 cents above estimates. Sales soared nearly 20% to $14.7 billion, exceeding consensus by $890 million. FedEx also lowered its fiscal 2017 guidance.
Viacom (VIA.B) fell after halving its quarterly dividend to 20 cents a share and revising its fourth-quarter earnings outlook. The media company anticipates earnings no higher than 70 cents a share, well below consensus of 91 cents. The company said Interim CEO Tom Dooley would leave the company on Nov. 15, and it also has ended its search for a minority investor in its film unit, Paramount Pictures.
Allergan (AGN) extended its recent buying spree on Tuesday evening, snapping up privately held company Akarna Therapeutics for $50 million. The drugmaker agreed to acquire Tobira Therapeutics (TBRA) on Tuesday for $1.7 billion, a 500% premium to its close before the announcement. Allergan agreed to acquire Vitae Pharma (VTAE) in a $639 million deal last week.