Wall Street ekes out gains as investors shrug off Fed minutes

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Technology stocks led Wall Street slightly higher on Wednesday, as U.S. inflation data proved to be benign and the minutes from the Federal Reserve’s March meeting were unsurprising.

The blue-chip Dow, held back by industrial stocks, squeaked into positive territory at the closing bell.

The three major U.S. indexes were relatively unchanged following the release of the Fed’s minutes, which reaffirmed the central bank’s patience regarding future interest rate hikes.

“The Fed notes were kind of a nothing, exactly what the market was expecting” said Stephen Massocca, senior vice president at Wedbush Securities in San Francisco. “It’s how the Fed likes to operate. They wanted to reaffirm existing expectations, which they did.”

Core U.S. consumer prices, which strip out volatile food and energy segments, rose at the slowest annual pace in over a year, according to the Labor Department’s CPI report. The tepid inflation data further supported the Fed’s decision to suspend its three-year, interest-rate-hike campaign.

“The core number shows no inflation and the headline reflects higher gasoline prices, which is a headwind for growth, a tax on consumers,” said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.

Top executives from some of the largest U.S. banks testified before Congress for the first time since the 2007-2009 financial crisis, just days before the banks report quarterly results amid lowered expectations by analysts.

Profit forecasts for the first quarter have dropped steadily in the last six months, with S&P 500 earnings now seen falling by 2.5%, which would mark the first year-on-year contraction since 2016, according to Refinitiv data.

The earnings season began in earnest as Delta Air Lines raised its revenue forecast and posted better-than-expected profits, lifting the airliner’s stock by 1.6%.

FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

Levi Strauss & Co posted a 7% rise in revenue in its first earnings report since returning to the public market. Its shares rose 4.0%.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 6.58 points, or 0.03%, to 26,157.16, the S&P 500 gained 10.01 points, or 0.35%, to 2,888.21, and the Nasdaq Composite added 54.97 points, or 0.69%, to 7,964.24.

Of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, eight ended the session in positive territory.

Boeing Co weighed on industrials as the plane maker’s shares extended losses, closing down 1.1%.

Tesla Inc got a boost after U.S. lawmakers introduced legislation that would expand the electric vehicle tax credit. The company’s stock advanced 1.4%.

ConAgra Brands shot up 6.7% after providing upbeat forecasts at its investor day.

First Solar Inc jumped 8.3% after Goldman Sachs added the stock to its conviction list.

Houseware retailer Bed Bath & Beyond shot up more than 8% in after-market trading after posting quarterly results.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 2.85-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.26-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 28 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 73 new highs and 36 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 6.15 billion shares, compared to the 7.20 billion average over the last 20 trading days.

Reporting by Stephen Culp; Editing by Leslie Adler