A late decline erases gains for US stock market indexes

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks gave up modest gains and turned lower in late afternoon trading Wednesday, putting the market on track for its fifth straight decline. Earlier, the Federal Reserve stood pat on interest rates, as many had expected. Bond prices rose slightly, sending yields lower.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average was down 41 points, or 0.2 percent, to 17,632 as of 3:55 p.m. Eastern. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 5 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,070 and the Nasdaq composite fell 11 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,832.

ON HOLD: 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.”

BRITISH DRAMA: Most investors are focused on the other side of the Atlantic at the moment. 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, known informally 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.

Bond investors said the uncertainty about the Brexit vote has forced European investors to buy up U.S. government bonds in a search for yield and security.

“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. “

WHOLE FOODS SLIDES: Whole Foods Market fell $1.52, or 5 percent, to $31.01 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.

ENERGY: 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.

BONDS, CURRENCIES: Bond prices continued to rise after the Fed meeting and ahead of the Brexit vote. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell to 1.59 percent from 1.61 percent a day earlier. Bond yields are tied to interest rates on many kinds of loans including mortgages. The dollar fell to 105.91 yen from 105.97 yen. The euro edged up to $1.1272 from $1.1205.

METALS: 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.