Stocks close lower as Fed minutes trigger volatility

Wall Street suffered wild swings Wednesday, ending the day lower, even as the Federal Reserve dampened expectations of an accelerated timetable for interest rate hikes.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 166.97 points, or 0.67%, to 24,797.78. The S&P 500 lost 14.93 points, or 0.55%, to 2,701.33. The Nasdaq Composite retreated 16.08 points, or 0.22%, to 7,218.23.

Volatility returned to the stock market, with the Dow trading in a range of 475 points. The blue-chip index surged more than 300 points higher following the release of the Fed’s minutes from its January policy meeting. The minutes signaled a less hawkish tone than investors previously thought, easing concerns that policymakers would become more aggressive in raising interest rates this year.

The drop in equities late in Wednesday’s session coincided with a spike in the benchmark 10-year Treasury yield, which hit a new four-year high of 2.957%. Yields rise as bond prices fall.

In economic data, U.S. home sales declined 3.2% in January, marking the largest annualized decline in three years. The flash U.S. manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index for February climbed to 55.9 from 55.5, hitting a 40-month high. A reading above 50 indicates economic expansion.

West Texas Intermediate crude fell 11 cents to $61.68 a barrel.

Gold fell 0.36% to $1,326.40 an ounce in recent trading.

The CBOE Volatility Index, Wall Street’s “fear gauge” and a measure of price swings in the market, pared its losses as stocks swung lower. The VIX was trading about 1.8% lower at 20.23.