U.S. stocks traded sharply lower Wednesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average erasing all of its gains in 2015, as investors anxiously await an announcement from the U.S. Federal Reserve and a news conference from Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen. The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) could reveal clues on when the central bank plans to raise interest rates that have remained at historic lows since the 2007-09 financial crisis.
The blue-chip Dow briefly dropped more than 100 points in morning trading, pushing the index down more than 53 points, or 0.3 percent, for the year.
In morning trading Wednesday, the Dow (INDEXDJX:.DJI), which measures the share prices of 30 large industrial companies, dropped 82.14 points, or 0.46 percent, to 17,766.94. The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index (INDEXNASDAQ:.IXIC) dipped 7.11 points, or 0.34 percent, to 2,067.26. The Nasdaq composite (INDEXSP:.INX) lost 10.96 points, or 0.22 percent, to 4,926.51.
Economists are waiting to see whether the Fed will drop the word "patient" from its monetary policy statement when describing its timetable for raising current rates from historic lows. Meanwhile, investors from Wall Street to Main Street want to know what the central bank’s plan is for the months ahead. “The Fed has been hiding behind the same statements for quite some time now, and it’s time for them to tip their cards,” said Jonathan Corpina, senior managing partner with Meridian Equity Partners.
If the Fed removes “patient” from its statement, this would be the indication that economists and investors have been waiting for, and the financial markets should react positively from that this afternoon, Corpina said. “The longer we sit in this holding pattern, investors will continue to grow restless and uncertain,” he said.
“It seems certain that the word 'patient' is very well factored in to the equity market to being removed. So in the event nothing happens in this regard, the market would likely sell off, in thinking that the Fed is falling further behind the curve and getting too cautious and dovish. This would be a so-called Patience Panic, which would not be unlike the Taper Tantrum,” said Mark Newton, chief technical analyst at Greywolf Execution Partners.
No major U.S. economic data is scheduled for release Wednesday morning, as most of the attention will be on the FOMC's monetary policy statement, released at 2 p.m. EDT. Yellen will hold a news conference following the announcement at 2:30 p.m. EDT.
The price of U.S. crude dropped below $43 a barrel overnight, while the price of Brent crude traded just above $53 a barrel Wednesday, as analysts are looking ahead to the Energy Information Administration’s U.S. oil inventories report released at 10:30 a.m. EDT. Economists expect the data to reveal that crude stockpiles will remain at a record high for the 10th consecutive week. U.S. commercial crude oil inventories rose by 4.5 million barrels to 448.9 million barrels for the week ended March 6, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said last week, the most at any time in at least 80 years.
West Texas Intermediate crude, the benchmark for U.S. oil prices, dropped 2.7 percent Wednesday to $42.29 a barrel, for April 15 delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the benchmark for global oil prices, dropped 2.25 percent to $53.44 a barrel, for May 15 delivery on the London ICE Futures Exchange.