Stock markets turn positive after dovish comments by Fed's Yellen

TORONTO – Dovish comments from Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen helped propel North American stock markets higher Tuesday as investors were buoyed by reassurances that interest rates hikes won’t be happening any time soon.

The S&P/TSX composite index gained 36.04 points to 13,426.23, reversing a triple-digit decline earlier in the day. Gold stocks led the way, rising almost 4.4 per cent and offsetting declines in the energy, consumer staples and health-care sectors.

The Canadian dollar added 0.67 of a U.S. cent to 76.54 cents US.

Much of the strength in the loonie was attributed to a weakened U.S. dollar as investors turned bearish on the currency following Yellen’s speech to the Economic Club of New York. The head of the U.S. central bank told the audience that the Fed will move slowly on rate increases because global economic issues could still harm the U.S. economy.

John Stephenson, president and chief executive of Stephenson & Co. Capital Management, said Yellen’s comments signalled to investors that she was going to “double down” on what the Fed had already reiterated in its statement in March: that it was in no hurry to raise rates.

“It was so dovish,” he said. “Essentially saying extreme caution was warranted. That was basically her language. Central banks have been largely responsible for the gains in the markets for the last number of years. It’s been their policies… they’ve all been aimed at keeping rates low, keeping (the) money supply flowing.”

Stephenson said the market still thinks the earliest the Fed will hike rates from their current lows will be at their meeting in June.

“If things aren’t strong enough for the U.S. to raise rates, the underlying message is that the economy isn’t strong enough,” he added.

Meanwhile, weakness continued in the energy sector as the May contract for benchmark crude oil slipped for a fifth straight session, down $1.11 at US$38.28 a barrel.

Elsewhere in commodities, June gold rose $15.50 to US$1,237.50 a troy ounce, while May natural gas added five cents to US$1.98 per mmBtu. May copper shed three cents to US$2.21 a pound.

In New York, lacklustre markets reversed course as the Dow Jones industrial average rose 97.72 points to 17,633.11, while the broader S&P 500 composite added 17.96 points to 2,055.01. The Nasdaq shot up 79.83 points to 4,846.62.

Among the Nasdaq winners was tech giant Apple (Nasdaq:APPL), which climbed US$2.49 to US$107.68 after the FBI dropped its legal efforts to force it to break into the iPhone used by San Bernadino, Calif., shooter Syed Farook who, along with his wife, killed 14 people in December. The FBI said it was able to hack into the phone on its own.

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