Fed's minutes, gas prices push stocks lower



The market drop ends eight straight days of advances.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Wall Street stumbled Wednesday, pulling the Dow Jones industrials down nearly 90 points after minutes from the Federal Reserve's most recent meeting indicated the central bank is not ruling out an interest rate increase to curb inflation.
The minutes, coupled with a jump in gasoline prices, heightened investor worries about inflation and drove an already-sagging stock market even lower. Investors are growing increasingly anxious that rates may rise, which could limit corporate profits and consumer spending and further weaken the housing market by making mortgages more expensive.
Wall Street had been hoping instead that the central bank might lower rates because of the slowing economy; the Fed's recent statements accompanying its rate decisions have indicated it was closely watching the economy's direction and leaving open the possibility of a rate cut.
Inflation watch
But the minutes released Wednesday showed the Fed was remaining steadfast in its vigilance against inflation. The Fed's Open Market Committee said at its March 20-21 meeting, "all members agreed the statement should indicate that the committee's predominant policy concern remains the risk that inflation will fail to moderate as expected."
Though many investors are still counting on an eventual rate cut, the Fed's tough stance on inflation has made the possibility seem more distant, said Georges Yared, founder and chief investment strategist for Yared Investment Research.
"It's not bad news, but it's not great," Yared said. "The Fed is doing the right thing here, stepping back and putting the brakes on, but not pushing any panic buttons."
How standards did
According to preliminary calculations, the Dow fell 89.23, or 0.71 percent, to 12,484.62, after dropping 118 points earlier in the session. Wednesday's selloff shaved off six sessions' worth of gains, and was the first retreat after eight days of advances, the blue chip index's longest winning streak since 2003.
Broader stock indicators also declined. The Standard & amp; Poor's 500 index slipped 9.52, or 0.66 percent, to 1,438.87, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 18.30, or 0.74 percent, to 2,459.31.
Bonds fell after the Fed minutes were released. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose to 4.74 percent from 4.72 percent late Tuesday. The dollar was higher against the euro and the yen, while gold prices were unchanged.
The dollar was helped by comments from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who said after a speech at New York University that China is unlikely to sell off U.S. assets.
The government on Wednesday reported a 5.5 million-barrel decline in the nation's gasoline inventories, which was four times what the market expected and the ninth straight weekly drop. Crude oil prices rose 2 cents to 61.91 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, while gasoline futures rose more than 3 cents to 2.1587 a gallon, an eight-month high.
At the retail level, the average U.S. price of a gallon of gasoline was 2.795 on Wednesday, according to AAA, up more than 25 cents from a month ago and 10 cents higher than a year ago.

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