Here are the most important news, trends and analysis that investors need to start their trading day:
- Dow futures steady as bond yields rise but Nasdaq futures fall
- Powell needs to tamp down inflation concerns while defending policy
- 15% of U.S. adults fully vaccinated; Trump touts shots to supporters
- White House sets low bar for Thursday's U.S.-China meeting
- Uber grants UK drivers worker status after losing labor battle
Dow futures were steady Wednesday even as the 10-year Treasury yield jumped to a new 13-month high ahead of the Federal Reserve's post-meeting release of new economic and interest rate projections and Chairman Jerome Powell's news conference. However, Nasdaq futures slumped about 1%, in step with recent pressure when bond yields rise. The Dow Jones Industrial Average on Tuesday broke a seven-session winning streak, retreating from a record high close. The S&P 500 also fell from a record close, breaking five straight days of higher finishes. The Nasdaq bucked Tuesday's trend and finished higher.
As bond yields rise on concerns about inflation, Powell needs to convince traders that easy current Fed monetary policy won't overheat a recovering economy that just got another Covid stimulus boost. Central bankers got a new batch of housing data to consider. February housing starts fell 10.3% and building permits last month dropped 10.8%. Both declines exceeded expectations and followed sharp declines in January. The Fed concludes its two-day March meeting Wednesday afternoon, with no one expecting any change in rates from near zero or any shift in the extraordinary measures designed to support growth during the coronavirus pandemic.
New daily Covid cases in the U.S., down about 80% from early January, continued to fall as immunity protection increases from vaccinations and high levels of prior infection. More than 15% of the U.S. adult population has been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, while heading in the right direction, health officials say those vaccination numbers need to go much higher to stomp out the disease, which killed an average of 1,285 people in America over the past seven days, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Former President Donald Trump urged people to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, saying he would recommend it to "a lot of people that don't want to get it, and a lot of those people voted for me." However, in a Fox News interview Tuesday night, Trump acknowledged that people were free to decide for themselves whether to get shots.
The White House is setting low expectations ahead of Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security advisor Jake Sullivan's first face-to-face meeting with their Chinese counterparts in Anchorage, Alaska, on Thursday. According to a senior Biden administration official, the two sides won't deliver a joint statement and no major announcements are expected.
Reflecting Washington's concern about the erosion of Hong Kong's rights, the U.S. sanctioned an additional 24 Chinese and Hong Kong officials over Beijing's ongoing crackdown on political freedoms in the semi-autonomous city. China said the new sanctions expose America's "sinister intention to interfere in China's internal affairs, disrupt Hong Kong and obstruct China's stability and development."
Uber will reclassify all U.K.-based drivers as workers, in the wake of losing a major labor battle there earlier this year. Under the new designation, more than 70,000 drivers in the U.K. will get some benefits, including a minimum wage, holiday time and pension contributions. However, they won't receive full employee benefits. In a SEC filing, Uber said its U.K. ride-hailing business accounted for 6.4% of all mobility gross bookings in the fourth quarter of 2020. Shares of Uber fell more than 2% in U.S. premarket trading.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report. Get the latest on the pandemic with CNBC's coronavirus blog.