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Banks stifle Wall Street rally following dovish Fed statement

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* Fed holds interest rates steady, sees no rate hikes in 2019

* S&P financials end the session down 2 percent

* Fedex cuts 2019 profit forecast, weighs on Dow Transports

* Indexes: Dow down 0.55 pct, S&P off 0.29 pct, Nasdaq up 0.07 pct (Updates to market close)

By Stephen Culp

NEW YORK, March 20 (Reuters) - The S&P 500 and the Dow ended lower on Wednesday as interest rate-sensitive financial stocks dragged down the indexes after the U.S. Federal Reserve affirmed a dovish monetary policy stance.

While all three major U.S. stock indexes briefly reversed earlier losses following the Fed statement, only the Nasdaq ended the session in positive territory.

"The first reaction to a Fed statement is always the wrong reaction," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Securities in New York. "Hey great, the ambulance got here, oh wait – we need an ambulance. The Fed to the rescue – oh wait we need the Fed to rescue us?"

At the conclusion of its two-day monetary policy meeting, the central bank indicated it sees no further rate hikes this year, and released details of a plan to end the monthly reduction of its balance sheet.

But while the indexes briefly turned positive after the statement's release, banks, which are sensitive to interest rates, put a damper on the rally.

The financial sector sold off sharply in the last hour of trading, ending the session down 2.1 percent.

R.J. Grant head of trading at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods in New York saw "a heavy pickup in selling in the banks especially," as the yield curve flattened.

The stock market has rallied since the beginning of the year, when Fed chair John Powell said the Fed would take a "patient" approach to monetary policy.

Powell affirmed that sentiment at a press conference following the release, citing mixed economic data and risks associated with Brexit and trade negotiations as reasons for caution.

Indeed, Federal funds futures now see nearly even chances that the central bank will cut interest rates in early 2020.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 141.71 points, or 0.55 percent, to 25,745.67, the S&P 500 lost 8.34 points, or 0.29 percent, to 2,824.23 and the Nasdaq Composite added 5.02 points, or 0.07 percent, to 7,728.97.

Of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, six ended the session in negative territory.

Shares of Fedex Corp dropped 3.5 percent after the global package delivery company cut its 2019 profit forecast, citing slowing global trade growth.

FedEx weighed on the Dow Jones Transport Index, a closely-watched gauge of economic health, pulling the index down 1.3 percent.

Rival United Parcel Service Inc was also down, falling 2.2 percent.

General Mills Inc. rose 2.2 percent after the packaged food company reported better-than-expected quarterly profit and boosted its full-year forecast.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.16-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.64-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 22 new 52-week highs and 4 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 46 new highs and 42 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 7.76 billion shares, compared to the 7.53 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days. (Reporting by Stephen Culp, additional reporting by Charles Mikolajczak and Sinead Carew Editing by Susan Thomas)

First Published: 2019-03-20 13:18:38
Updated 2019-03-20 22:37:55


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