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Wall St. up as Fed raises rates but stays course

FILE PHOTO: A street sign for Wall Street is seen outside the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in Manhattan, New York City, U.S. December 28, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

By Rodrigo Campos

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks rose sharply on Wednesday after the Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the second time in three months, as expected.

The Fed, which raised its target rate by 25 basis points, or a quarter of a percentage point, to between 0.75 and 1.00 percent, did not however flag any plan to accelerate the pace of monetary tightening, a concern that had lingered among some market participants.

Markets were expecting the Fed's decision and traders had priced in more than a 90 percent chance of a quarter-point rate increase, according to federal funds futures.

"People were thinking the Fed might be more aggressive, so the fact that they weren't means more complacency and a continued course," said Eric Schoenstein, co-portfolio manager of the Jensen Quality Growth Fund in Portland, Oregon.

"The statement was not as hawkish as it might have been."

During her press conference after the meeting, Fed Chair Janet Yellen pointed to the stock market as an indicator of easing financial conditions, which some could take as a sign that stock valuations are not yet at stress levels.

"She cast the market’s role as a positive one on consumer balance sheets and left it at that. It will be read as an implicit endorsement of current valuations, which many consider quite high," said Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at Convergex, a global brokerage company based in New York.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (.DJI) rose 112.73 points, or 0.54 percent, to 20,950.1, the S&P 500 (.SPX) gained 19.81 points, or 0.84 percent, to 2,385.26 and the Nasdaq Composite (.IXIC) added 43.23 points, or 0.74 percent, to 5,900.05.

The Russell 2000 (.RUT) index of small-cap stocks rose 1.5 percent, while financials on the S&P 500 (.SPSY) were the worst-performing sector.

U.S. retail sales recorded their smallest gain in six months in February, setting U.S. gross domestic product on track to grow at a 0.8 percent annualised pace in the first quarter, according to the Atlanta Fed's latest forecast.

Energy stocks boosted the S&P 500 as oil prices rose for the first time in more than a week on a surprise drawdown in U.S. crude inventories. U.S. crude (CLc1) gained 2.6 percent to $48.96 per barrel and Brent (LCOc1) added 2.3 percent to $52.08.

Exxon shares (XOM.N) rose 1.2 percent and Chevron (CVX.N) added 1.4 percent.

Apple (AAPL.O) closed up 1.1 percent at $140.46 after RBC raised its price target on the stock.

Twitter (TWTR.N) ended down 1.9 percent at $15.03 after a number of prominent accounts on the microblogging website were hacked.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 6.84-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.28-to-1 ratio favoured advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 74 new 52-week highs and two new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 125 new highs and 42 new lows.

About 7.87 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, higher than the 6.98 billion daily average over the last 20 sessions.


(Additional reporting by Megan Davies and Sinead Carew; Editing by Nick Zieminski and James Dalgleish)