The stock market fell for a fifth straight day Wednesday as investors set aside the Federal Reserve’s interest rate decision and remained focused on next week’s vote on whether Britain will remain in the European Union.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 34.65 points, or 0.2 percent, to 17,640.17. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 3.82 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,071.50 and the Nasdaq composite fell 8.62 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,834.93.
As expected, the Federal Reserve’s policymakers voted to keep interest rates unchanged at their current level of 0.25 percent to 0.50 percent.
In their statement, the Fed said that while U.S. economic activity continues to strengthen, “the pace of improvement in the labor market has slowed,” a reference to the April and May job reports that were weaker than anticipated.
“After that May jobs report, I think today’s decision was a fait accompli,” said Kristina Hooper, head of U.S. investment strategies at Allianz Global Investors, after the decision was announced. “They needed to hit the pause button for June, but I think a July rate hike still remains a distinct possibility.”
Bond prices remained high, keeping yields low. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell to 1.58 percent from 1.61 percent a day earlier. Bond investors said the uncertainty about the British vote has forced European investors to buy up U.S. government bonds in a search for yield and security, pushing bond yields to their lowest levels in years.
“We are in a rare moment where the highest quality creditor, the United States, is also the creditor with the highest interest rate,” said Brandon Swensen, senior portfolio manager and co-head of U.S. fixed income at RBC Global Asset Management.
With the Fed decision revealed, most investors are focused on the other side of the Atlantic. There is grave uncertainty about whether British voters will choose to leave the European Union in a June 23 referendum. Polls show the vote could go either way and investors are starting to worry about the consequences.
A British exit from the EU, which investors have taken to referring to as “Brexit,” would likely hurt the British economy most and destabilize the rest of Europe. The repercussions, however, are not clear and investors are reacting to the general uncertainty over the situation.
During her press conference, Yellen said Fed policymakers said the upcoming vote was one of the reasons why the central bank kept interest rates unchanged.
“The potential disruption from [a British exit from the EU] has not loomed as large with investors as it should have. Now that the Fed decision over, the [vote] will be all they’ll be talking about,” Hooper said.
Among individual companies, Whole Foods Market fell $1.62, or 5 percent, to $30.90 after the Food and Drug Administration said there were “serious violations” at a kitchen in Massachusetts that may have resulted in contaminated food and the grocery chain hasn’t done enough to fix them so far.
Benchmark U.S. crude oil fell 48 cents to close at $48.01 a barrel in New York. The price has fallen 6.3 percent over the last five days. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 86 cents to close at $48.97 a barrel in London.
In other energy commodities, wholesale gasoline futures fell 2 cents to $1.50 a gallon, heating oil closed down 2 cents to $1.48 a gallon and natural gas fell 1 cent to $2.595 per 1,000 cubic feet.
The dollar rose to 105.98 yen from 105.97 yen. The euro edged up to $1.1268 from $1.1205.
Gold prices rose 20 cents to $1,288.30 an ounce. Silver rose 8 cents to $17.50 an ounce and copper closed up five cents to $2.091 a pound.