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Stocks gain as Bostic backs quarter-point hike

By Chuck Mikolajczak

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks rallied on Thursday, as Treasury yields pulled back from earlier highs following comments from Atlanta Federal Reserve President Raphael Bostic about his favored path of interest rate hikes for the central bank.

In an argument for quarter-point hikes, Bostic said he favored "slow and steady" as the appropriate course of action for the Fed, as the impact of higher interest rates may only start to be felt in the spring.

The yield on 10-year Treasury notes had earlier touched a fresh four-month high of 4.091% after data showed the number of Americans filing new unemployment claims fell again last week, indicating continued strength in the labor market, while a separate report showed U.S. labor costs grew faster than initially thought in the fourth quarter. The 10-year yield was last up 6.7 basis points to 4.064%.

The two-year U.S. Treasury yield, which typically moves in step with interest rate expectations, was down 0.4 basis points at 4.885% after earlier touching a fresh 15-year high at 4.944%.

"Bostic has been a little bit more hawkish so the fact that he basically said 25 was comforting because he has been on the hawkish end of hawkish people," said Rhys Williams, chief strategist at Spouting Rock Asset Management in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

"The Fed is not crazy, they understand monetary policy works with a lag, so you are just starting to see now the impact of the first rate hikes, let alone the other 400 basis points they did."

(Graphic: US jobs - https://www.reuters.com/graphics/GLOBAL-MARKETS/THEMES/znpnbxnkepl/US_jobs.jpg)

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 341.73 points, or 1.05%, to 33,003.57, the S&P 500 gained 29.96 points, or 0.76%, to 3,981.35 and the Nasdaq Composite added 83.50 points, or 0.73%, to 11,462.98.

Fed funds futures tied to the Fed's policy rate see about an even chance that the rate will get to a range of 5.5%-5.75% by September, from the current range of 4.5%-4.75%.

At the closing bell, Fed Governor Christopher Waller said a string of "hot" data may force the U.S. central bank to raise rates higher than the 5.1%-5.4% range projected by the majority of Federal Reserve policymakers as recently as December.

Monthly payrolls and consumer prices data in the coming days will offer investors more clues on how aggressive the central bank may be heading into the Fed's March 21-22 meeting, where it is currently expected to raise rates by 25 basis points.

The S&P 500 was trading just above its 200-day moving average of about 3,940, seen as a key support level by traders, after briefly falling below it for the first time since Jan. 25 earlier in the session.

Salesforce Inc soared 11.50% to notch its biggest one-day percentage gain since August 2020, after the cloud-based software firm forecast first-quarter revenue above analysts' estimates and doubled its share buyback to $20 billion.

Tesla Inc fell 5.85% after Chief Executive Elon Musk and team's four-hour presentation failed to impress investors with few details on its plan to unveil an affordable electric vehicle.

Macy's Inc jumped 11.11% after the department store operator forecast full-year profit above Wall Street estimates,

Silvergate Capital plunged 57.72% after the crypto-focused lender delayed its annual report and said it was evaluating its ability to operate as a going concern.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 11.15 billion shares, compared with the 11.46 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.19-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.10-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 10 new 52-week highs and 13 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 80 new highs and 153 new lows.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Aurora Ellis)