NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks ended mostly lower after a volatile day as traders tried to figure out what was next for U.S. interest rates.
The bumpy trading Thursday came after the Federal Reserve decided to keep interest rates low for now, citing weakness in the global economy and unsettled financial markets.
Investors did make significant bets on U.S. Treasuries and, for a change, precious metals. The U.S. dollar weakened against its major currency counterparts as the threat of higher interest rates abated.
The Dow Jones industrial average lost 65.21 points, or 0.4 percent, to 16,674.74. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 5.11 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,990.20 and the Nasdaq composite index rose 4.71 points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,893.95.
The Fed said that while the U.S. job market is solid, there are reasons to be concerned about global economic growth. Fed Chair Janet Yellen said a rate hike is still likely this year. The Fed meets again in October and December.
“The market got what it wanted,” said Alan Rechtschaffen, a portfolio manager at UBS. “The market had a ‘rate rant’ last month and that scared the Fed.”
Interest rates have been near zero since 2008, when the Fed drastically cut rates in response to the financial crisis and Great Recession. The last time the central bank actually raised rates was 2006.
Ultra-low interest rates tend to help the stock market because they make bonds, CDs and other income-producing investments less appealing by comparison. They also make it inexpensive for companies to borrow money to buy back their own shares, which also sends stock prices higher.
On the other hand, the Fed has made it abundantly clear that the current policy of super-low rates is an unusual measure intended to shore up the economy and will eventually be dismantled. Keeping it in place is a signal that the Fed believes the economy isn’t quite strong enough to withstand higher rates. For investors wondering when interest rate policy will be “normalized,” that means more waiting.
“They just need a little more time. The drumbeat is getting louder for them to actually raise rates,” said Tony Bedikian, head of global markets at Citizens Financial Group.
With interest rates not changing soon and inflation in check, investors bought up bonds. The yield on the U.S. 10-year Treasury note dropped to 2.19 percent from 2.30 percent the day before, a large move. The two-year Treasury note, which would be more heavily impacted by higher short-term interest rates, had even an even more dramatic move, dropping to 0.68 percent from 0.80 percent.
In precious metals markets, gold and silver saw significant buying in after-hours trading after the Fed released its statement. Gold fell $2 to settle at $1,117 an ounce in regular trading but was up $12.80 to $1,131.80 an ounce later. Silver added 10 cents to settle at $14.98 an ounce, and gained another 25 cents to $15.13 in extended trading. Copper finished unchanged at $2.45 a pound in regular trading. It was up a penny in after-hours trading.
Oil finished slightly lower after the Fed’s comments. U.S. crude fell 25 cents to $46.90 a barrel. Brent crude, a benchmark for many international oils imported by U.S. refineries, fell 67 cents to $49.08 a barrel.
In other energy futures trading, wholesale gasoline fell less than a penny to $1.376 a gallon. Heating oil slipped 1.17 cents to $1.53 a gallon and natural gas fell 1 cent to $2.652 per 1,000 cubic feet.
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