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S&P 500, Dow finish lower in volatile trade on dour Fed forecasts

(Reuters) - The Dow and S&P 500 ended a choppy session lower on Wednesday after the Federal Reserve reassured investors of its support for the economy but projected a 6.5% decline in gross domestic product this year.

The Nasdaq, helped by gains in Microsoft MSFT.O and Apple AAPL.O, managed to hold onto a good chunk of its gains and registered a closing record high for a third straight session.

In its latest policy statement, the Fed also forecast a 9.3% unemployment rate at year’s end, and officials saw the key overnight interest rate, or federal funds rate, remaining near zero through at least 2022.

The S&P 500 and Dow both moved between gains and losses after the statement, which included the Fed’s first projections on the economy since the coronavirus outbreak, and following comments from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell.

“The projections for GDP and for unemployment are that it’s going to improve slowly from here, but it still takes a while to get back,” said Tom Martin, senior portfolio manager at Globalt in Atlanta.

An S&P index of bank shares .SPXBK, which tend to benefit from rising rates, fell 5.8% in its biggest daily percentage decline since April 15, and the S&P 500 financial index .SPSY was the biggest drag on the benchmark index.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 282.31 points, or 1.04%, to 26,989.99, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 17.04 points, or 0.53%, to 3,190.14 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 66.59 points, or 0.67%, to 10,020.35.

The S&P 500 was off as much as 0.8% before the Fed statement.

The Fed’s pledge to keep monetary policy loose until the U.S. economy is back on track repeats a promise made early in the central bank’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I noticed a material downward move in the banks as (Powell) talked about yield curve control. That is not something the banks want to see. What it does is it keeps rates down,” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial in Newark, New Jersey.

Shares of Eli Lilly and Co LLY.N rose late, ending up 1.3%, after its chief scientist told Reuters that it could have a drug specifically designed to treat COVID-19 authorized for use as early as September if all goes well with either of two antibody therapies it is testing.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 2.25-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.86-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 17 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 92 new highs and three new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 14.13 billion shares, compared to the 12.69 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

Reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch; additional reporting by Stephen Culp and Sinead Carew; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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