Spike in bond yields upends market rally

Specialists Robert Tuccillo, center, and Matthew Greiner works at their post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Stocks are opening higher on Wall Street after several U.S. companies reported solid results. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
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AP Business Writer

U.S. stocks closed broadly lower Wednesday, erasing an early gain, as investors reacted to a late-afternoon surge in bond yields. Bond yields climbed to their highest level in four years after the Federal Reserve released minutes from its latest policy meeting. The minutes showed bullish sentiment among policymakers, confirming their intention to raise interest rates this year.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose sharply after the minutes came out, touching 2.95 percent, its highest level since January 2014. Higher bond yields indicate investors expect more risk of inflation. They also can threaten stock prices by making bonds more appealing versus stocks.

“We’re moving back to normal volatility, we’re moving back toward normal interest rates, normal inflation,” said Erik Davidson, chief investment officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank. “This is what normal looks like.”

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 14.93 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,701.33. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 166.97 points, or 0.7 percent, to 24,797.78. The blue chip average had been 300 points higher before the late-afternoon slide.

The Nasdaq gave up 16.08 points, or 0.2 percent, to 7,218.23. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks shed most of its gains from earlier in the day. It inched up 1.84 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,531.84.

The major stock indexes started the day on pace to recoup some of the market’s losses from a day earlier as investors sized up the latest crop of company earnings.

Technology companies, retailers and industrial stocks led the way for much of the day. The rally kicked into a higher gear shortly after the Fed minutes release.

Traders appeared to initially welcome the details in the meeting minutes, which show that a majority of Fed officials at the meeting believed that improving global economic prospects and the effects of recently passed tax cuts had raised the prospect for solid economic growth and for continued interest rate increases in 2018.

The Fed did not raise rates at the January meeting, which occurred before the February stock market plunge and turbulence.

Then bond yields began to climb, and the stock market rally began to evaporate. For a while, bank shares jumped in response to the rise in bond yields, which can benefit banks by allowing them to charge higher interest rates on loans. But soon banks stocks also slid into the red.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which is used as a benchmark for mortgages and other loans, has been rising in recent months from a recent low of 2.04 percent in September.

The pickup in yields has begun to make bonds more attractive as an alternative to stocks, which makes some investors uneasy.

Despite the broader market slide, investors bid up shares in some companies that reported better-than-expected earnings or outlooks Wednesday.

Advance Auto Parts vaulted 8.2 percent after reporting better earnings than analysts were expecting. The stock was the biggest gainer in the S&P 500, adding $8.65 to $114. Shares in rival auto parts retailer AutoZone also rose, climbing $6.26, or 0.9 percent, to $719.49.

La-Z-Boy also got a lift from its latest quarterly report card, rising $2.85, or 9.9 percent, to $31.75.

Walmart shares continued to slide Wednesday, a day after posting its biggest single-day drop in 30 years. The stock lost $2.59, or 2.8 percent, to $91.52.

Devon Energy slid 11.8 percent after the energy company disclosed a smaller-than-expected profit and 2018 forecast that raised concerns with analysts. The stock gave up $4.08 to $30.57.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell 11 cents to settle at $61.68 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, rose 17 cents to close at $65.42 per barrel in London.

In other energy futures trading, heating oil was little changed at $1.93 a gallon. Wholesale gasoline added a penny to $1.76 a gallon. Natural gas rose 4 cents to $2.66 per 1,000 cubic feet.

The dollar rose to 107.78 yen from 107.30 yen on Tuesday. The euro weakened to $1.2300 from $1.2336.

Gold rose 90 cents to $1,332.10 an ounce. Silver added 18 cents to $16.62 an ounce. Copper gained 3 cents to $3.22 a pound.

Major indexes in Europe ended mostly higher. Germany’s DAX slipped 0.1 percent, while France’s CAC 40 rose 0.2 percent and Britain’s FTSE 100 added 0.5 percent.

In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 index climbed 0.2 percent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gained 1.8 percent. Australia’s S&P ASX 200 edged 0.1 percent higher. The Kospi in South Korea added 0.6 percent. India’s Sensex gained 0.3 percent. Shares in Southeast Asia were mixed.