World stocks rise, dollar drops as Fed chair boosts rate-cut hopes

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A broad index of world stock markets edged higher on Wednesday while the U.S. dollar fell as comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell bolstered expectations for an interest rate cut from the U.S. central bank this month.

MSCI's broadest index of world stocks .MIWD00000PUS rose 0.42%, with U.S. equities touching record highs following the release of prepared remarks for Powell's testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee. The U.S. benchmark S&P 500 index .SPX briefly crossed the 3,000 mark for the first time ever.

Powell said the Fed was ready to “act as appropriate” to sustain a decade-long U.S. economic expansion and pointed to economic risks including persistently weak inflation, slowing global growth and a downturn in business investment.

Minutes released from the Fed’s June meeting struck a similar tone as Powell’s testimony. Several of the central bank’s policymakers said interest rates should come down to soften the blow of a U.S.-China trade war and to firm up inflation.

“It’s a precautionary action by the Fed in an environment showing risks to economic growth, but it’s not (because of) immediate economic danger,” said John Stoltzfus, chief investment strategist at Oppenheimer Asset Management in New York, of the likelihood of interest rate cuts. “The market is saying it’s a prudent act.”

After Powell’s remarks and the Fed’s minutes, interest rate futures appeared to price in greater odds of an aggressive rate cut this month. Expectations for a 50-basis-point cut, which had nearly been snuffed out following stronger-than-expected U.S. employment data on Friday, jumped to 26.6%, according to CME Group’s FedWatch tool.

Yields on short-dated U.S. Treasuries, which had ticked higher in recent sessions after Friday’s stronger-than-expected employment data, fell on Powell’s remarks. The two-year Treasury yield, a proxy for market sentiment about interest rate policy, was last 7.7 basis points lower at 1.8277%.

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However, yields on 10-year and 30-year Treasuries moved higher to steepen the yield curve which had flattened over the past few sessions. Benchmark 10-year Treasury notes US10YT=RR last fell 3/32 in price to yield 2.0647%, from 2.056% late on Tuesday.

Following Powell's remarks, the dollar fell against the euro and the yen. The dollar index .DXY, tracking the greenback against six major currencies, was last 0.38% lower.

The yen was last 0.36% stronger against the dollar at 108.45, while the euro rose 0.40% against the greenback to $1.1251.

“The easing of the dollar is a good thing overall,” said Keith Lerner, chief market strategist at SunTrust Advisory Services in Atlanta. “That’s a positive for international markets and for financial conditions.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI rose 76.71 points, or 0.29%, to 26,860.2, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 13.44 points, or 0.45%, to 2,993.07 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 60.80 points, or 0.75%, to 8,202.53.

In commodity markets, oil prices surged as U.S. crude inventories shrank more than expected and as major producers evacuated rigs in the Gulf of Mexico before a storm.

Brent crude futures LCOc1 settled up $2.85, or 4.44%, to $67.01 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures CLc1 settled up $2.60, or 4.5%, to $60.43 a barrel.

Spot gold XAU= added 1.4% to $1,417.80 an ounce as the dollar fell.

Additional reporting by Kate Duguid, Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss, Laila Kearney and Stephanie Kelly in New York, Trevor Hunnicutt and Howard Schneider in Washington and Marc Jones in London; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Sonya Hepinstall