U.S. stocks fell on Wednesday, a day after the S&P 500 rose to within 2 percent of its record, as Wall Street mulled the ramifications of the widely telegraphed ahead monetary-policy decision from the Federal Reserve.
As expected, the central bank announced an end to monthly bond purchases, known as quantitative easing, that helped fuel stock gains and increased the Fed's balance sheet to a record. The central bank kept its language on keeping interest rates low for a "considerable time" as it ended its two-day meeting, but dropped its "significant" wording in regards to slack in the U.S. labor market.
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"I don't think it would be any surprise that they are ending QE; anybody who thinks that wasn't paying attention. The only real change is what they said about unemployment, and we get that news next week," said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade, referring to the October jobs report scheduled for release next Friday.
"The fact remains even though the headline reads the Fed ends QE, they haven't diminished the size of their balance sheet, that money is going to be rolled over," Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Banyan Partners.
"It was a knee-jerk reaction to what has been known for many months," Pavlik added of stocks falling to session lows in the immediate aftermath of the decision, with the Dow sliding more than 100 points.
"The 'oh my God we're on our own-type fear took hold there for a second," said Kinahan at TD Ameritrade.
Facebook shares slid as the social network projected slower revenue growth this quarter and said spending would increase in 2015; Orbital Sciences dropped, a day after its unmanned rocket exploded just after taking off for the International Space Station; Hershey declined after the chocolate maker posted third-quarter earnings below estimates and cut its guidance for the year, and U.S. Steel surged after posting better-than-estimated quarterly results.
"Generally this is why the markets have come back firmly is because earnings season has gone quite well. The fear was with Europe, China and Latin America slowing down that we'd see a lot of downward revisions. We saw some, but in general did not happen," said Paul Karos, senior portfolio manager for Whitebox Mutual Funds.
Of the 287 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported third-quarter earnings, 75.3 percent have beaten estimates, better than the 63 percent of companies that beat in a typical quarter, going back to 1994, according to Thomson Reuters.