U.S. Stocks Pull Back Off Best Levels But Still Close Higher

Stocks gave back some ground after an early move to the upside but managed to remain mostly positive throughout the trading session on Wednesday. The major averages all reached record intraday highs, although only the Nasdaq managed to end the session at a record closing high. The Dow rose 76.71 points or 0.3 percent to 26,860.20, the Nasdaq advanced 60.80 points or 0.8 percent to 8,202.53 and the S&P 500 climbed 13.44 points or 0.5 percent to 2,993.07. Early buying interest was generated in reaction to Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell's prepared remarks before the House Financial Services Committee. Powell told lawmakers that crosscurrents, such as trade tensions and concerns about global growth, have continued to weigh on the U.S. economic outlook since the central bank's June meeting. The Fed chief pointed out that increased uncertainties about the economic outlook and muted inflation pressures led the central bank to pledge after the June meeting to "act as appropriate to sustain the expansion." Powell noted that many meeting participants saw that the case for a somewhat more accommodative monetary policy had already strengthened. "Since then, based on incoming data and other developments, it appears that uncertainties around trade tensions and concerns about the strength of the global economy continue to weigh on the U.S. economic outlook," Powell said in his prepared remarks. The comments from Powell led to renewed optimism about a potential rate cut by the Fed at its next meeting later this month. However, traders seemed wary of making more substantial bets on stocks, as a rate cut would only be necessary in the face of a slowing economy. Largely mirroring Powell's remarks, the minutes of the central bank's June meeting released later in the day said many participants believe the case for lowering interest rates has strengthened. The minutes of the latest Fed meeting noted nearly all participants downwardly revised their assessment of the appropriate path for rates due to global developments that led to heightened uncertainties about the economic outlook. "Many judged additional monetary policy accommodation would be warranted in the near term should these recent developments prove to be sustained and continue to weigh on the economic outlook," the Fed said. The central bank added, "Several others noted that additional monetary policy accommodation could well be appropriate if incoming information showed further deterioration in the outlook." Gold stocks moved sharply higher over the course of the trading session, resulting in a 2.8 percent spike by the NYSE Arca Gold Bugs Index. With the jump, the index reached its best closing level in well over a year. The rally by gold stocks came amid a notable increase by the price of the precious metal, with gold for August delivery climbing $12 to $1,412.50 an ounce. Significant strength also emerged among energy stocks, which moved higher along with the price of crude oil. Crude for August delivery surged up $2.60 to $60.43 a barrel following the release of a report showing a steep drop in crude oil inventories. Reflecting the strength in the energy sector, the Philadelphia Oil Service Index soared by 2.5 percent, the NYSE Arca Natural Gas Index climbed by 1.6 percent and the NYSE Arca Oil Index rose by 1.3 percent. Tobacco, computer hardware, and software stocks also saw considerable strength on the day, while banking stocks came under pressure over the course of the session. Powell's second day of testimony on Capitol Hill may attract some attention on Thursday along with reports on consumer prices and weekly jobless claims.