Scoreboard: Fed breather

Wall Street lifted on news the Federal Reserve is in no rush to raise interest rates, while European markets ended slightly lower as investors poured through profit results.

According to minutes from the last Federal Reserve meeting some members were encouraged by recent developments: "Labor market conditions had moved noticeably closer to those viewed as normal in the longer run." But then the report noted: "Most Fed policymakers wanted more evidence before changing rate views."

In US economic data, the mortgage market index rose by 1.7 per cent last week with purchases down 0.7 per cent and refinancing up by 2.7 per cent.   

European shares fell slightly on Wednesday as investors dissected profit results. Shares in Carlsberg fell 3.6 per cent in response to a profit warning, but shares in Heineken rose 8.3 per cent after posting a better-than-expected profit. The FTSEurofirst 300 index fell by 0.1 per cent with the German Dax down 0.2 per cent and the UK FTSE lost 0.4 per cent. Australia's major miners were higher in London trade with shares in BHP Billiton up by 0.7 per cent while Rio Tinto lifted by 1.3 per cent.

US sharemarkets rose on Wednesday after minutes from the Federal Reserve confirmed policymakers were in no rush to raise interest rates. The Dow Jones index rose by almost 60 points or 0.4 per cent with the S&P 500 index up by 0.3 per cent while the Nasdaq fell by 1 point or less than 0.1 per cent from 14-year highs.

US treasury prices were lower on Wednesday (yields higher) as comments from Federal Reserve policymakers suggested that they were moving closer to lifting rates. US two-year yields rose by 3 points to 0.476 per cent while US 10-year yields rose 2 points to 2.43 per cent.

The euro and the Japanese yen ended weaker against the US dollar after European and US sessions on Wednesday. The euro eased from highs near $US1.3305 to about $US1.3255, ending US trade near the lows. The Australian dollar eased from highs near US93.15c to US92.75c before ending the US session close to US92.85c. And the Japanese yen eased from 103.10 yen per US dollar to JPY103.83, ending US trade near the weakest levels.

World oil prices rose on Wednesday. Data in the last week showed that US crude stocks fell by 4.5 million barrels, led by distillate inventories. Brent crude rose by US72 cents to $US102.28 a barrel and the US Nymex price rebounded by $US1.59 a barrel or 1.7 per cent to $US96.07 a barrel.

Base metal prices rose by up to 2.6 per cent on Wednesday with zinc up the most although tin edged only 0.1 per cent higher. Gold prices fell again on Wednesday as the US dollar rose with the Comex gold futures quote down by $US1.50 or 0.1 per cent to $US1,295.20 per ounce. Iron ore fell by US70c on Wednesday to $US92.30 a tonne. 

Ahead: In Australia, no major economic data is scheduled. In China the "flash" manufacturing gauge is released. In the US, weekly data on claims for unemployment insurance are released together with existing home sales, the leading index and Philadelphia Federal Reserve index.

Craig James is chief economist at Commsec.