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Stocks rally as Fed calms rate worries; Nasdaq positive for 2014

U.S. stocks jumped on Wednesday, lifting the Nasdaq Composite into positive terrain for the year, after minutes from the Federal Reserve's last session offset concern about when the central bank would raise interest rates.

The Federal Open Market Committee's minutes had policy makers unanimous in agreeing to drop an unemployment target for hiking rates.

The decision "makes a lot of sense, to have a fixed data point when you're talking about the unemployment rate doesn't consider all the factors," said Dave Roda, regional chief investment officer at Wells Fargo Private Bank.

Treasury yields jumped last month after Fed members forecast the benchmark interest rate would climb more rapidly than previously projected. And Fed Chair Janet Yellen said rates could begin to climb about six months after the central bank concludes its monthly bond purchases.

"In the end they confirmed that it's data dependent, as long as the pace of improvement in the economy remains at current levels, we should expect reductions in bond purchases and we should expect rates to stay at current levels for the foreseeable future, so some of that uncertainty was alleviated," Roda added.

"All the Fed knows right now is they are going to taper unless something massive happens in a negative way. This is a very accommodative Fed; Taper was accommodative plus, plus, now it's accommodative plus. We're not even near the territory of actual tightening," said Zachary Karabell, head of global strategy at Envestnet.

A day after bouncing back from a selloff, Facebook rallied, as did LinkedIn, Priceline Group. Amazon.com and Tesla Motors.

"You're seeing strength in some of the higher-growth stocks. I think that's giving people some confidence to wade back into the market," said Doug Foreman, chief investment officer at Kayne Anderson Rudnick.

"For a lot of people, that's been a source of concern, that it might be a prelude to a major correction, or that short-term investors were jumping on a trend that could quickly reverse," said Foreman of the three-session hit taken by biotech and new-tech shares.

After falling below its offering price in its first day of trading, midmarket hotel chain La Quinta reversed higher; the Blackstone-backed company raised $650 million from an offering of 38.25 million shares.

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
DJIA
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S&P 500
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NASDAQ
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The Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 181.04 points, or 1.1 percent, to 16,437.18, with Merck & Co. pacing gains that included 26 of its 30 components.

The S&P 500 climbed 20.22 points, or 1.1 percent, to 1,872.18, with health care and technology pacing gains that included all but telecommunications and utilities among its 10 major industry groups.

The market is oversold, at least in the short term, helping support prices, said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities.

"The S&P 500 seems to be holding above the psychologically important 1,850 level," he added.

Up 0.2 percent for the year, the Nasdaq added 70.91 points, or 1.7 percent, to 4,183.90.

For every stock falling, more than two gained on the New York Stock Exchange, where nearly 703 million shares traded. Composite volume cleared 3.3 billion.

The U.S. dollar edged lower, while the cost of crude rose, with futures for May delivery up $1.04 to $103.60 a barrel. Gold futures for June delivery shed $3.20 to $1,305.50 an ounce.

The 10-year Treasury yield used in figuring mortgage rates and other consumer loans climbed 1 basis point to 2.692 percent.

U.S. equities are rangebound and tied to 10-year and 30-year Treasury yields, believes said Nick Raich, chief executive officer at the Earnings Scout.

"It's all about the level of interest rates and expectations, when yields drop, that paves the way for continued positive improvement in earnings expectations," Raich said. When the 30-year Treasury bond hits 4.75 percent and the 10-year Treasury rises to 3 percent, "economic expectations roll over," along with stocks, he added.

The Commerce Department on Wednesday reported wholesale inventories rose 0.5 percent in February after a revised 0.8 percent the prior month, in line with expectations.

Shares of Alcoa gained after the aluminum producer projected demand for the metal would top output this year.

"So far, 24 companies have reported, counting Alcoa, on the first-quarter earnings clock, and the guidance is not as severe" as the prior quarter, said Raich.

On Tuesday, stocks rose, with the Nasdaq Composite bouncing back from its worst three-day hit since 2011.

—By CNBC's Kate Gibson

Coming Up This Week:

Wednesday

7:30 p.m.: Fed Gov.Daniel Tarullo

Thursday

Earnings: Family Dollar, Pier 1 Imports, Shaw Communications, Commerce Bancshares, NQ Communications

Monthly chain store sales

8:30 a.m.: Jobless claims

8:30 a.m.: Import prices

8:45 a.m.: IMF Director Christine Lagarde press briefing

11:30 a.m.: Chicago Fed's Evans

1:00 p.m.: $13 billion 30-year auction

2:00 p.m.: Federal budget

Friday

Earnings: JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Fastenal

8:30 a.m.: PPI

9:55 a.m.: Consumer sentiment

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