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Wall Street ticks higher ahead of Fed rate decision

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Wall Street’s main stock indexes inched up on Wednesday, as investors steered clear of placing big bets ahead of an interest rate decision by the Federal Reserve later in the day.

The U.S. central bank is widely expected to raise the fed-funds rate by half a percentage point to 4.25-4.50%. The decision will be announced at 2 p.m. ET (1800 GMT) and followed by Chair Jerome Powell’s press conference.

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Concerns over the Fed staying the path on rate hikes had tempered an early rally on Wall Street on Tuesday following data that showed U.S. consumer prices increased at their slowest pace in about a year in November.

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“The stock market will reward improving inflation for a while. We’re still in the sevens (inflation rates), and I think you can get down to fours without unemployment rising but it’s going to be very difficult to get back to the target rate,” said Andrew Slimmon, managing director at Morgan Stanley Investment Management in Chicago.

“The market knows that the forward indicators like yield curve are flashing a warning that the economy could run into a tougher go in the future, and it suggests that we could be setting up for earnings problems in addition.”

The U.S. central bank has raised its policy rate by 375 basis points so far this year to a 3.75%-4.00% range from near zero, the fastest rate hikes since the 1980s.

Strategists at Morgan Stanley expect the central bank to increase rates by another 25 basis points at its February meeting, but see no increases thereafter, leaving the peak fed-funds rate at 4.625%.

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In contrast, money market participants expect two more 25 basis-point hikes next year, taking the terminal rate to 4.82% by May.

Fears that aggressive interest rate increases by major central banks will tip the global economy into a recession have hammered risk assets such as equities.

For the year, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq have lost 15.3% and 27.9%, respectively, and are on track for their worst yearly performance since the financial crisis in 2008.

The rate-sensitive S&P 500 real estate sector index and growth index have witnessed double-digit drops in 2022, knocked down by the Fed’s rapid rate increases.

At 9:53 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 137.28 points, or 0.40%, at 34,245.92, the S&P 500 was up 14.07 points, or 0.35%, at 4,033.72, and the Nasdaq Composite was up 20.00 points, or 0.18%, at 11,276.82.

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Eight out of the 11 major S&P 500 sectors were in the green, led by technology and utilities.

Megacap growth stocks like Microsoft Corp, Apple Inc, Mastercard Inc and Qualcomm Inc gained between 0.9% and 1.1%.

Tesla Inc slipped 2% after a Goldman Sachs analyst trimmed the price target for the electric-vehicle maker’s stock.

Charter Communications Inc slid 13.9% as multiple brokerages cut their price targets following the telecom services firm’s mega spending plans on higher-speed internet upgrade.

Delta Air Lines Inc advanced 2% as the Atlanta-based carrier is expecting to nearly double its profit next year.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.35-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and 1.12-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded three new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 23 new highs and 83 new lows. (Reporting by Shubham Batra, Ankika Biswas and Johann M Cherian in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Sriraj Kalluvila)

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