Belfast Telegraph

Banks and healthcare companies lead US stocks slightly higher

A late wave of buying has helped nudge US stock indexes slightly higher after a day of mostly listless trading.

Banks and health care stocks climbed the most as investors priced in an increasing likelihood that interest rates will rise in the coming months.

Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen helped stoke those expectations in a speech in which she said an improving job market and rising inflation would likely prompt the central bank to increase borrowing costs.

"The real takeaway here is if the Fed is willing to start moving, they see the economy as not only doing better but likely to do better going forward," said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer at Commonwealth Financial Network. "The Fed is notorious for waiting until the evidence of growth is absolutely undeniable."

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 2.74 points, or 0.01%, to 21,005.71.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 1.20 points, or 0.1%, to 2,383.12. The Nasdaq composite index added 9.53 points, or 0.2%, to 5,870.75.

Small-company stocks fell. The Russell 2000 index slipped 1.54 points, or 0.1%, to 1,394.13.

Speaking in Chicago on the Fed's economic outlook on Friday, Ms Yellen said the Fed will likely resume raising interest rates later this month to reflect a strengthening job market and inflation edging toward the central bank's 2% target rate.

She added that the central bank expects steady economic improvement to justify additional rate increases.

While not specifying how many rate hikes could occur this year, Ms Yellen noted that Fed officials in December had estimated that there would be three this year.

Investors' expectations of a rate hike this month had been building in recent days as remarks by other Fed officials signalled the central bank is ready to resume raising rates as soon as its next two-day meeting of policymakers on March 14-15.

That is one reason the major indexes moved little before and after Ms Yellen's speech.

Bond prices were little changed after pulling back from an early climb. The 10-year Treasury yield held steady at 2.48%.


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