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November 28, 2018

Dow surges nearly 550 points after Fed hints rate hikes will slow

Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell gave investors reason to cheer on Wednesday when he suggested that the Fed may slow down its interest rate hikes.

The Dow surged on the news and was up nearly 540 points, or more than 2%, in midday trading. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq each rose about 2% as well.

Powell reassured investors that the Fed wouldn't risk killing off economic growth by continuing to aggressively raise rates next year.

"Our gradual pace of raising interest rates has been an exercise in balancing risks," Powell said during a speech at the Economic Club of New York. "We know that moving too fast would risk shortening the expansion. We also know that moving too slowly -- keeping interest rates too low for too long -- could risk other distortions in the form of higher inflation."

Powell noted that rates remain relatively low and that they are just below what many economists consider "neutral for the economy -- that is, neither speeding up nor slowing down growth."

Investors seemed to interpret Powell's comments as a sign that the Fed, which is widely expected to raise rates again at a meeting next month, may now only hike rates once or maybe twice at most in 2019 as opposed to earlier forecasts of three or four hikes.

The Dow's most cyclical stocks were among the biggest gainers. Shares of Boeing (BA), Caterpillar (CAT), Microsoft (MSFT) and Apple (AAPL) helping to lead the rally.

In fact, only four Dow stocks -- Verizon (VZ), United Technologies (UTX), DowDupont (DWDP) and Procter & Gamble (PG) -- were trading lower Wednesday afternoon.

Matthew Cheslock, a trader at Virtu Financial, told CNNMoney editor-at-large Richard Quest on "Markets Now" Wednesday that the market interpreted Powell's comments as meaning that we are "closer to normal rates. I think that was what really sparked the market to go higher."

Cheslock added that some of Powell's remarks about the market not being in a bubble were reassuring as well.

Powell's comments may assuage concerns about the Fed possibly going too far with rate increases, a criticism leveled by President Donald Trump.

But Tobias Levkovich, Citigroup chief US equity strategist, told Quest that the market may be overreacting.

"I'm not dancing or partying right at the moment," he said, adding that the Fed has talked about gradual rate hikes "for a very long time." "Maybe [the markets] were just worried it would be worse," Levkovich said.

To that end, Trump, who chose Powell to replace former Fed chief Janet Yellen, has often bashed him and the Fed on Twitter and in interviews for the rate hikes.

In fact, Trump attacked Powell again in a Washington Post interview Tuesday, saying he was "not even a little bit happy" with Powell and that the Fed was making a mistake with so many rate hikes.

Trump even added that sometimes decisions he makes with his "gut" matter more than what other people's brains tell him.

Whether or not investors were using their guts or brains when deciding to jump back into stocks Wednesday remains to be seen. But it's clear that the bulls were back in charge on Wednesday.

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