This story was updated at 4:17 p.m. EST.
U.S. stocks dropped Wednesday after the Federal Reserve expressed concern about slower U.S. economic growth and business inventory investment late last year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEXDJX:.DJI) closed down 222.77 points, or 1.38 percent, on Wednesday. It held on to a modest gain for much of the day prior to the Fed’s 2 p.m. announcement.
In a unanimous decision, the Fed’s rate-setting committee opted Wednesday to keep interest rates steady, an announcement largely anticipated by investors. The Fed’s statement accompanying its decision provided telling insights into its broader economic outlook. In it, the Fed noted that “economic growth slowed late last year.” The comment comes after a harrowing month for international markets. The S&P 500 index has dropped 7.2 percent in January.
The Fed’s statement shows policymakers “are concerned about the implication of a weak global economy,” said Jia Liu, a fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research. “Right now the markets are very sensitive to any kind of news.”
The Chicago Board Options Exchange’s Volatility Index, a popular measure used to forecast market volatility in S&P 500 stocks over the next 30 days, dropped after the U.S. Fed’s announcement, but rebounded to gain 3.38 percent. The index rises when investors think volatility will linger for the next 30 days. The index touched a nearly four-month high on Jan. 20.
Eight of the 10 S&P 500 sectors closed down on Wednesday. Telecommunications and utilities stocks closed in the green. Tech stocks saw the biggest drops, anchored by Apple Inc.’s lackluster earnings report. Dow 30 declines were led by Boeing Co. (NYSE:BA), which said 2016 earnings would be lower than expected, and Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), which reported the first flat year of sales for its core iPhone product since the gadget was released in 2007.
The yield on the benchmark U.S. 10-year Treasury yield settled to a daily low of 2.00 percent, from 2.47 percent just before the Fed’s statement. The bond yield typically rises when investors are more confident about the markets and falls when concerns flare. Gold, another so-called safe harbor investment, was up 0.45 percent $1,125.20 per troy ounce by the closing bell Wednesday in New York, from about $1,120 just before the Fed announcement. Gold prices tend to fall as confidence in the markets rise.
Oil prices continued their roller-coaster ride as traders follow the price of crude more closely than they have in 26 years, according to the Wall Street Journal. On Wednesday, prices rose on news from the U.S. Energy Information Administration that inventories of distillates, especially heating oil, fell. Colder weather swept into the U.S. late last week and continued with the weekend’s winter storm that battered the eastern United States.
West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark for crude, closed up 1.56 percent to $31.94 per barrel for March delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the major global benchmark, jumped 3.08 percent to $32.78 for March delivery on the London ICE Futures Exchange.
Investors can’t seem to decide if the prices are a symptom of an impending global downturn or whether the massive glut is the main issue. Regardless, while low oil prices are good for some sectors, and for gasoline prices, they’re pummeling the energy sector, causing some companies to default on loans, and hurting local U.S. economies closely linked to drilling activity.
China’s broad CSI 300 Index edged down 0.35 percent by the closing bell in Asia on Wednesday and the mainland Shanghai Composite Index followed suit by closing down 0.52 percent. The smaller Shenzhen Composite dropped 0.97 percent.
In Europe, the broad Stoxx Europe 600 index closed on Wednesday up by a slight 0.05 percent. The Paris-based CAC 40 closed up 0.54 percent while London’s FTSE rose 1.33 percent and Frankfurt’s DAX gained 0.59 percent.