Steadfast Fed, Easing Cyprus Fears Lift Stocks

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Wall Street posted solid gains on Wednesday as traders responded to the Federal Reserve continuing its aggressive easing and analysis suggesting the situation in Cyprus will remain contained.

Today's Markets

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 55.91 points, or 0.39%, to 14511.73, the S&P 500 climbed 10.37 points, or 0.67%, to 1558.71 and the Nasdaq Composite jumped 25.09 points, or 0.78%, to 3254.19.

The blue chips briefly traded in record territory before closing below those highs, while the S&P 500 snapped a three-day losing streak and landed just 0.4% away from its best close ever.

Gains were fairly broad-based on the day, with every sector besides telecommunications climbing. The best performer by a wide margin was the consumer discretionary sector, followed by consumer staples, and then health-care.

Fed Holds Firm on Policy

The Federal Reserve said it expects to continue holding interest rates at historic lows until the unemployment rate falls below 6.5%. It will also continue buying assets at its current pace of $85 billion per month, and weigh the costs of benefits of this aggressive monetary policy.

The central bank also sees the unemployment rate falling faster than previously expected in 2013 and 2014. It now forecasts a range of 7.3% to 7.5% for this year and 6.7% to 7% the following year. The upper range of the 2015 estimate was also lowered 0.1 percentage point to 6.5%.

"We see nothing in the March FOMC statement to alter our view that the Fed will continue its asset purchase program at a rate of $85bn per month through the end of the year, before beginning to slow purchases sometime in the first half of 2014," Michael Gapen, an economist at Barclays wrote to clients.

Timing of the Fed's exit from quantitative easing has been key ever since minutes from the last meeting said some members were mulling "tapering" the program as the economy improves. The Fed balances its dual mandate of ensuring steadily low unemployment and keeping inflation under control in making its decisions. Over the past several years, inflation has been kept in check, so the Fed has been pushing hard to accelerate growth and push the unemployment rate down.

"The Fed would argue, and its time market participants believed them, that as long as inflation is low, the paramount concern is the unemployment rate," Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG, wrote in an email. "As such and in theory, as long as inflation and inflation expectations remain contained, the FOMC could ease policy indefinitely."

Cyprus Woes Ebb

Headlines from Europe have driven Wall Street higher and lower over the past two trading days. However, markets have only posted relatively mild losses even as the situation in Cyrpus remains murky. The country's parliament turned down a plan that would have financed $7.5 billion of a $13 billion international bailout with bank deposit levies.

That means Cyprus now needs to come up with a new way to kick in money for the plan, lest it risks a default and and a big blow to its banking system. Still, there are hopes among world trading desks that the situation will remain contained.

"In the glory days of the eurozone crisis a ‘no’ vote to a bailout plan would have provoked a major storm, but the small size of the bailout and the loose monetary policy environment means that most investors are happy to leave Cyprus on the back burner," Chris Beauchamp, a market analyst at IG in London wrote in an e-mail.

On the corporate front, FedEx (NYSE:FDX) revealed an adjusted fiscal third-quarter profit of $1.23 a share, significantly below estimates of $1.38 a share. Revenues of $11 billion beat Wall Street’s expectations of $10.85 billion. The global shipping giant’s full-year profit view of $6 to $6.20 a share missed forecasts of $6.31 a share.

Shares of BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) jumped on a report that Morgan Stanley upgraded the embattled smartphone maker to "overweight" from "underweight."

In commodities, oil and gasoline prices pushed higher. The benchmark U.S. crude oil contract climbed 69 cents, or 0.75%, to $92.85 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline rose 0.37% to $3.056 a gallon. Gold fell $3.60, or 0.23%, to $1,608 a troy ounce.

Foreign Markets

The Euro Stoxx 50 rose 0.69% to 2690, the English FTSE 100 fell 0.02% to 6441 and the German DAX climbed 0.43% to 7981.

In Asia, the Chinese Hang Seng rallied 1% to 22256. Markets in Japan were closed for the Vernal Equinox.