Week In Review: Central Banks Take Center Stage
U.S. stocks climbed to new record highs this week as investors digested policy directives from several of the world's most influential central banks and grew increasingly optimistic about the GOP's chances of passing its promised tax overhaul.
The S&P 500 added 0.9%, the Dow advanced 1.3%, and the Nasdaq jumped 1.4%. All three major indices settled Friday's session at fresh record highs.
The Federal Open Market Committee voted to raise the fed funds target range by 25 basis points to 1.25%-1.50% on Wednesday, as expected. Chicago Fed President Charles Evans and Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari--the FOMC's two most dovish members--dissented, saying they preferred to keep the target range unchanged.
In addition, the Fed's so-called "dot plot" revealed that the median FOMC member still anticipates three rate hikes in 2018 and two in 2019. Both figures were unchanged from the projections released in September, even though the central bank acknowledged that overall inflation and core inflation have declined this year and are running below 2.0%.
U.S. Treasuries rallied in a curve-flattening trade on Wednesday following the decision, while the U.S. Dollar Index moved sharply lower. The 2yr-10yr spread ended the week at 52 basis points, which is six basis points below last week's closing level. The U.S. Dollar Index finished the week higher by 0.1% at 93.94.
The flattening of the yield curve weighed on lenders, sending the S&P 500's financial sector lower by 0.1%.
Elsewhere, the European Central Bank decided to leave its key policy rate unchanged, as expected, and reiterated that it will reduce its monthly asset purchases to EUR30 billion (from EUR60 billion) starting in January and continuing through September 2018--or beyond, if necessary.
The Bank of England also met this week, voting to leave its key rate at 0.50% and its asset purchase program at GBP435 billion, as expected.
In Washington, House and Senate Republicans reportedly reached an agreement on a final version of their tax reform bill on Wednesday, but Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) pushed for some last-minute changes, saying on Thursday that he would vote against the measure unless it further expands the child tax credit for lower-income households.
GOP leadership worked to appease Mr. Rubio and earned his support, as well as the support of Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), on Friday. With the two Senators on board, it appears that the Republicans have enough support to pass their tax reform bill, but a final vote won't take place until early next week.
On Wall Street, telecom shares within the S&P 500 jumped 4.0% this week, underpinned by the prospect of tax reform and the Federal Communications Commission's decision to roll back the "net neutrality" rules put in place by the Obama administration back in 2015. The rules required broadband providers to treat all internet traffic equally.
In corporate news, Walt Disney (DIS) agreed to purchase select assets from 21st Century Fox (FOXA), including its film division and much of its TV operations, for $52.4 billion in stock. The two companies added 6.8% and 5.1%, respectively, helping the consumer discretionary sector (+1.1%) finish ahead of the broader market.
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