Stocks dip after S&P 500 closes at highest level since Jan.

U.S. stocks drifted slightly lower after rallying earlier this week, as investors eyed developments on discussions between Russia and Ukraine and mulled mixed data on the U.S. economy.

The S&P 500 declined. The blue-chip index had risen for a fourth consecutive day and closed at its highest level since January on Tuesday, unwinding some losses for the year-to-date. As of Wednesday morning, the CBOE Volatility Index, or VIX, held below 20, or near its lowest level in more than two months.

U.S. crude oil prices rose for the first time in three sessions Wednesday after dipping earlier this week amid signs of progress in Russia-Ukraine talks. Russia said it was easing military action in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and northern city Chernihiv and was prepared to set a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy following a draft peace agreement. However, as of Wednesday, some media reports suggested strikes were still taking place near both major cities in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, investors nervously eyed a flattening U.S. Treasury yield curve, with longer-duration bond yields falling much more sharply than those on the short end as traders bet on higher rates from the Federal Reserve in the near-term and mulled a murky macroeconomic outlook over the longer-term. The benchmark 10-year yield edged higher Wednesday morning and topped 2.4%.

The spread, or difference, between the 2-year and 10-year Treasury note yields — a closely watched part of the yield curve which has typically inverted ahead of recessions — narrowed to its lowest level since 2019 earlier this week. (It inverted for a few seconds on Tuesday.)

“It is still a pretty accurate indicator [of a recession] if we go back and look at history, but I have to give you a few caveats,” Kristina Hooper, Invesco chief global market strategist, told Yahoo Finance Live on Tuesday. “First of all, it needs to invert for some time, typically three months, to be a very accurate indicator. Second, it’s a longer-term indicator. So usually after the yield curve inverts, it takes about 18 months on average for a recession to occur. And it is a terrible, terrible sell signal, because typically stocks have room to run and do run significantly higher after a yield curve inverts.”

The latest batch of U.S. economic data offered a mixed picture on the state of the economy amid still-elevated inflation, ongoing geopolitical uncertainty and tightening monetary policy out of the Federal Reserve. Job openings held little changed at about 11.3 million in March, far outpacing new hires at 6.7 million to reflect persistently rampant labor supply shortages. And while the Conference Board’s latest monthly index showed a slight uptick in consumer confidence in March, the index remained below last year’s average. Plus, consumers’ one-year inflation expectations soared to an all-time high of 7.9%.

“We expect a clear downshift in inflation expectations in the second half of the year, but they could easily rise further in the near-term,” Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist for Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in a note Tuesday.

“The survey sends mixed signals on the state of the economy but, always, remember that sentiment is not the same as spending, which is what matters,” he added.

9:30 a.m. ET: Stocks open lower

Here’s where markets were trading just after the opening bell Wednesday morning:

  • S&P 500 (^GSPC): -8.17 (-0.18%) to 4,623.43

  • Dow (^DJI): -40.27 (-0.1%) to 35,259.91

  • Nasdaq (^IXIC): -46.91 (-0.32%) to 14,569.93

  • Crude (CL=F): +$3.53 (+3.39%) to $107.77 a barrel

  • Gold (GC=F): +$10.00 (+0.52%) to $1,928.00 per ounce

  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): +2.8 bps to yield 2.428%

8:31 a.m. ET: 4Q GDP revised down to 6.9% annualized rate, personal consumption down to 2.5%

The U.S. economy expanded at a slightly slower rate than previously reported in the final months of 2021, based on the final revision on fourth-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

U.S. GDP rose at a 6.9% quarter-over-quarter, annualized rate in the final three months of 2021, the BEA said Wednesday. Previously, GDP growth was reported at 7.0%.

The downward revision to headline GDP came as the BEA cut its measure of personal consumption to show a 2.5% rate in the fourth-quarter, down notably from the 3.1% rate previously posted. Consumer spending comprises about two-thirds of U.S. economic activity. Still, the revision lower was partially offset by an upward revision to private inventory investment, which also contributes positively to GDP.

8:16 a.m. ET: Private payrolls rose by 455,000 in March, slightly exceeding estimates: ADP

U.S. private sector employers brought back slightly more jobs than expected in March as the economy faced ongoing labor shortages and widespread vacancies.

Private sector payrolls rose by 455,000 in this past month, ADP said in its latest report Wednesday. Consensus economists were looking for 450,000 jobs to return, according to Bloomberg data. In February, employers brought back 486,000 payrolls, based on ADP’s upwardly revised monthly print.

ADP’s report comes two days before the Labor Department’s “official” monthly jobs report for March, which is also expected to show about half a million payrolls returned for the last month. Though ADP’s report has tended to be an imperfect indicator of the ultimate payrolls figure in the government jobs report, it has often suggested at least directionally at the underlying trends in job growth.

7:30 a.m. ET: Stock futures decline after S&P 500 posts four straight days of gains

Here’s where markets were trading Wednesday morning:

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): -10.5 points (-0.23%) to 4,615.00

  • Dow futures (YM=F): -77 points (-0.22%) to 35,113.00

  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): -50.25 points (-0.33%) to 15,187.50

  • Crude (CL=F): +$2.79 (+2.68%) to $107.03 a barrel

  • Gold (GC=F): +$10.60 (+0.55%) to $1,928.60 per ounce

  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): +1.3 bps to yield 2.413%

7:20 a.m. ET: Mortgage applications fall for third straight week as mortgage rates rise by most in 11 years

U.S. mortgage applications fell for a third consecutive week last week, with refinances especially coming under pressures as mortgage rates jumped by the most in over a decade.

The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) weekly index showed a 6.8% decrease in application volume for the week ended March 25. This followed a drop of 8.1% for the prior period, and coincided with a rise in the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage to 4.8%, from 4.5% previously. That marked the biggest weekly increase since 2011 to bring rates to their highest level since the end of 2018.

Refinances fell by 15% compared to the prior week and slumped 60% over the same period last year. On an unadjusted basis, purchases were still higher by 1% week-on-week, but down by 10% compared to the same week last year.

“Mortgage rates jumped to their highest level in more than three years last week, as investors continue to price in the impact of a more restrictive monetary policy from the Federal Reserve. Not surprisingly, refinance application volume declined further, as fewer borrowers have an incentive to apply at rates that are significantly higher than a year ago,” Mike Fratantoni, MBA senior vice president and chief economist, said in a press statement.

6:12 p.m. ET Tuesday: Stock futures open slightly lower

Here’s where the major stock index futures opened Tuesday evening:

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): -4.75 points (-0.1%) to 4,620.75

  • Dow futures (YM=F): -24 points (-0.07%) to 35,166.00

  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): -15.5 points (-0.1%) to 15,222.25

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MARCH 28: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on March 28, 2022 in New York City. Following a positive week for stocks, the Dow Industrial Average was down over 100 points in morning trading. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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