Wall Street edges lower ahead of Powell comments

Wall Street’s main indexes have slipped as investors await Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s comments, which will be scrutinised for further clues on how long the central bank will keep interest rates higher.

Powell’s comments, due later today at the Economic Club of Washington, will be closely monitored after a strong jobs report last week stymied rising hopes of less aggressive monetary policy.

“Markets are still trying to ascertain last Friday’s employment data on the future direction of the Fed,” Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA Research, said.

“He (Powell) is expected to pretty much say what he did, that the market might continue to be underestimating what the Fed is going to be doing, even though he did say that they might be raising rates a couple more times.”

Traders are speculating that the central bank would push the benchmark rate to 5.1 per cent in June, levels that policymakers have backed vociferously.

Capping declines on the tech-heavy Nasdaq was megacap Microsoft Corp. The company’s shares added 1.9 per cent ahead of an event later in the day, where it is widely expected to unveil a potential integration of ChatGPT, a chatbot from OpenAI, into its products.

US-listed shares of Baidu Inc soared 8.9 per cent as the Chinese search engine said it would conclude the testing of its ChatGPT-style project ‘Ernie Bot’ in March.

Seven of the top 11 sectors on the S&P 500 were in declines, but technology was among top gainers propped up by Microsoft.

Among top gainers on the Dow Jones Industrial Average , Boeing Inc climbed 0.8 per cent after the US planemaker confirmed on Monday that it expects to cut about 2000 white-collar jobs through attrition and lay-offs.

Expectations of high rates for a protracted period dragged Wall Street’s main indexes down on Monday. But, all three major averages are in the black for 2023, with the Nasdaq adding over 13 per cent, led by a revival in battered mega-cap growth stocks.

So far, more than half of the companies on the S&P 500 have reported quarterly earnings, with 69.1 per cent of them beating expectations, according to Refinitiv. Still, analysts expect fourth-quarter earnings to decline 3.1 per cent.

In early trading on Tuesday, the Dow was down 121.48 points, or 0.36 per cent, at 33,769.54, the S&P 500 was down 10.83 points, or 0.26 per cent, at 4,100.25, and the Nasdaq Composite was down 13.31 points, or 0.11 per cent, at 11,874.14.

DuPont De Nemours Inc jumped 6.2 per cent, on a higher-than-expected quarterly profit supported by higher pricing for its products.

Bed Bath & Beyond plunged 40.3 per cent as the embattled home-goods retailer seeks a $US1 billion ($A1.4 billion) raise in a last-ditch effort to avoid bankruptcy.

Later into the day, US President Joe Biden will deliver the annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 2.31-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and for a 1.97-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded two new 52-week highs and two new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 35 new highs and 15 new lows.

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