Overnight Markets: US stocks edge lower in choppy session

The number of new homes under construction fell in December to an annual rate of 1.08 million, from 1.21 million rate in November, the Commerce Department said. That is the lowest level since 2016. However, the Conference Board’s consumer confidence index rose more than expected in February.

In a testimony before the US Senate Banking Committee, Powell said that the central bank would remain “patient” in deciding on further interest rate hikes and that rising risks and recent soft data should not prevent solid growth for the economy this year.

“Investors are a little tentative as far as chasing the market higher. They’re waiting for better prices or better news,” said Michael O’Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Seven of the 11 major S&P sectors ended lower with industrials providing the biggest drag with a 0.3% drop. The benchmark’s biggest boost was the technology index, which closed up 0.2%.

The healthcare index fell 0.3% after a US congressional hearing on the prices of medicines wrapped up in Washington.

Shares of Home Depot Inc. fell 0.9% after the home-improvement giant reported quarterly results that were weaker than expectations.

The S&P’s biggest losing stock was JP Morgan Chase & Co, which closed down 0.8% after it warned of rising costs for deposits, a key part of its business, and slowing global economic growth.

Caterpillar Inc. shares dropped 2.6% after the stock was downgraded by UBS.

In Asia, shares gained on Wednesday in morning trade, following Powell’s comments.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 added 0.43%, while the Topix advanced 0.23%. South Korea’s Kospi added 0.12%. The ASX 200 in Australia was up 0.33%. In China, the Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.80%, while Hong Kong’s Hag Seng Index added 0.56%.

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