WALL STREET: Stocks powered higher Wednesday after the Federal Reserve signaled it could hold off on interest rate increases in the coming months, citing muted inflation. The benchmark S&P 500 index is now track to end January with its biggest monthly gain in more than three years, and the gains pushed the Dow Jones Industrial Average above 25,000 points for the first time since early December. The S&P 500 index rose 1.6 percent to 2,681.05. The Dow gained 1.8 percent to 25,014.86. The Nasdaq composite climbed 2.2 percent to 7,183.08 and the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies picked up 1.1 percent, to 1,486.94. The Russell is up more than 10 percent this month.
CHINA MANUFACTURING: An official measure of China's manufacturing improved in January but forecasters say economic activity is sluggish as Chinese leaders try to resolve a tariff battle with Washington. The purchasing managers' index issued Thursday by the government statistics agency and an industry group rose 0.1 points on a 100-point scale but stayed below a level that shows activity expanding. Measures for employment and domestic demand weakened. China's economic growth sank to a three-decade low in 2018 after activity decelerated in the final quarter of the year.
US-CHINA TRADE: Trade talks opened Wednesday between the U.S. and China and will loom over the market for the remainder of the week. The high-level talks are aimed at settling a months' long trade war that has raised fears of slower economic growth. Industrial and technology companies have warned about slowing sales because of the trade impasse.
SAMSUNG DISAPPOINTS: Samsung Electronics Co. said it posted a near-30 percent drop in operating profit for the last quarter after seeing slowing global demand for its memory chips and smartphones. It still finished the year with record earnings, but Samsung said it expects its overall annual earnings to decline this year because of the sluggish semiconductor market, although it sees its sales of memory chips and organic light-emitting diode panels used in mobile devices rebounding in the second half.
FED TALK: With pressures on the U.S. economy rising — a global slowdown, a trade war with China, a nervous stock market — the Fed signaled Wednesday that it is in no hurry to resume raising interest rates. And with inflation remaining tame, the rationale to tighten credit has become less compelling. "The situation calls for patience," Chairman Jerome Powell said at a news conference. "We have the luxury to be patient."
ENERGY: U.S. crude oil rose 36 cents in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange to $54.59 per barrel. It gained 1.7 percent to settle at $54.23 per barrel in New York on Wednesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 52 cents to $62.06 per barrel. It had added 0.5 percent to close at $61.65 per barrel in London.
CURRENCIES: The dollar weakened to 108.86 yen from 109.04 yen on Tuesday. The euro rose against the dollar to $1.1507 from $1.1479.