Stocks jumped in late trading today after the Federal Reserve affirmed the economic recovery and said it could lift interest rates at a faster-than-expected pace next year. As a result, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) moved up 98 points, or 0.6%, while the S&P 500 jumped 0.8%, closing at a record of 1,957, and the Nasdaq gained 0.6%.
The remarks from the Federal Reserve came following its eight-times-a-year Open Market Committee meeting, and the central bankers noted that "economic activity has rebounded in recent months, labor market indicators showed improvement," and it expects economic activity to continue to expand at a moderate pace. The Fed also continued the taper of its monthly bond-buying program from $45 billion to $35 billion, as was widely expected. Though many investors had feared that the end of the stimulus would cause the recovery to unravel, that has not been the case.
Among stocks making headlines today was FedEx (NYSE: FDX ) , whose shares rose 6% after the package-delivery specialist posted strong quarterly earnings. As a transportation company, FedEx tends to have its results interpreted as a bellwether for the economy as a whole, and the better-than-expected performance was driven largely by increased e-commerce spending. FedEx said earnings per share improved from $2.13 to $2.46 in a fourth quarter that CEO Frederick Smith called "outstanding." That topped analyst estimates at $2.36, while sales improved 3.5% to $11.8 billion, ahead of the consensus at $11.66 billion. Ground shipping revenue drove the growth, increasing 8%. Looking ahead, the shipping company expects per-share earnings of $8.50 to $9 for fiscal 2015, in line with analyst estimates at $8.74. FedEx has also been aggressively buying back shares, which lifted EPS in the quarter past by $0.12, so even with modest sales growth next year the company should deliver on the bottom line.
Elsewhere, Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN ) shares finished up 2.7% as CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled the company's new smartphone at a special event. Amazon had not before said it was releasing a smartphone, though based on a promotion for today's event it was widely believed that the company was set to announce one. The new "Fire" phone attempts to separate itself from the heavy competition with a 3-D innovation it's calling Dynamic Perspective, and it also touts an image-recognition enhancement called Firefly, which can, for example, identify a printed phone number and dial it. Like the Fire tablet and Amazon's other gadgets, many of the add-on features are designed to integrate the device with shopping on Amazon. The new gadget will ship on July 25 and will be exclusively carried by AT&T. It's unclear how the smartphone will fare with consumers, and Amazon is going up against steep competition in a sector where Apple and Samsung have spent years improving their phones and building customer loyalty. That's at least one good reason to be skeptical of the Fire phone's success.
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