Saturday 03 Jun 2023
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(March 8): US stock indexes struggled for direction on Wednesday as investors worried about a potential recession, a day after comments from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell fueled bets of sharper rate hikes.

Ahead of the crucial nonfarm payrolls report on Friday, data showed US private payrolls increased more than expected in February, pointing to continued labor market strength.

Powell told US lawmakers on Tuesday the Fed would likely need to raise interest rates more than expected as it seeks to tame inflation, sending key US stock indexes down more than 1%, with the benchmark S&P 500 logging its biggest percentage decline in two weeks.

Traders sharply increased their bets that the US central bank will raise rates by 50 basis points later this month, with money market futures pricing in a nearly 70% chance of such a move.

Powell will testify again before the House Financial Services Committee at 10am ET.

A closely watched part of the US Treasury yield curve saw its deepest inversion in more than 40 years on Tuesday. Such an inversion is seen as a reliable recession indicator.

"The yield on the two-year is really showing you that the Treasury curve is taking the Fed seriously about where interest rates are heading, whereas the 10-year is really trying to get behind that hard landing narrative," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at B Riley Wealth.

"Unless we get some data over the course of the next two weeks, we really don't know which way we should be landing. Unfortunately the most important piece of the data doesn't come until Friday, that's why we've got a market that's meandering a bit."

BlackRock's chief investment officer of global fixed income, Rick Rieder, said the Fed could raise rates to 6% and keep them there for an extended period of time to fight inflation. Traders currently see the Fed funds rate peaking at 5.66% by September.

Labor department data at 10am ET is likely to show US job openings increased to 10.5 million in January after an unexpected rise to 11 million in the previous month.

At 9.38am ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 7.11 points, or 0.02%, at 32,849.35, the S&P 500 was down 1.51 points, or 0.04%, at 3,984.86, and the Nasdaq Composite was up 5.46 points, or 0.05%, at 11,535.80.

Tesla Inc slid 2.6% after US auto safety regulator said it was opening a preliminary investigation into 120,000 Model Y 2023 vehicles following reports about steering wheels falling off while driving.

Occidental Petroleum Corp gained 3.4% after Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc increased its stake in the oil company to about 22.2%.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 1.11-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and 1.38-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded no new 52-week high and eight new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 11 new highs and 57 new lows.

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