The Federal Reserve did what the market expected on Wednesday, and that may have been the problem. It continued to taper -- that is, trim the amount of stimulus it injects into the economy each month. The Fed also dropped a specific target for the unemployment rate, though it vowed to keep short-term interest rates near zero for a considerable period of time. But investors worried about some of the nuances in Janet Yellen's comments.
The market was flat when the Fed statement was released, but immediately turned lower. The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) lost 114 points on the day, the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) lost 25 and Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) fell 11 points.
KB Home (KBH) took home a 6 percent increase after reporting a profit versus a loss a year ago, but other homebuilders gave back their gains following the Fed news. And despite Wednesday's gain, KB shares are still about 10 percent lower than were a year ago.
Financial stocks were generally higher following the Fed statement.
And FedEx (FDX) stock was flat, which has to be considered a win following a disappointing earnings report. The company said results were "significantly affected by severe winter weather." A lot of companies have used that excuse recently, but investors apparently believe FedEx.
Elsewhere, Starbucks (SBUX) gained 2 percent. Its CEO told CNBC that it has no plan to raise prices, despite the sharp rise in wholesale coffee prices.
Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) rose another 3.5 percent, on top of Tuesday's big gain. And another IPO debuted with a blowout day. Paylocity (PCTY), which makes cloud-based software, soared 53 percent above its $17 a share IPO price.
First Solar (FSLR) jumped 20 percent after announcing a new pact with General Electric (GE) to develop a photovoltaic power plant. But Solar City (SCTY) fell 5.5 percent after posting earnings that fell shy of expectations.
Some of the biggest names in tech gave back some of their recent gains. Google (GOOG), Facebook (FB) and Amazon (AMZN) all lost about 1 percent.
Finally, Prothena (PRTA) was a standout gainer, soaring 26 percent after presenting some positive data on treating an abnormal build-up in protein.
What to Watch Thursday:
The Labor Department reports weekly claims for unemployment benefits at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
At 10 a.m., the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia releases its March survey of manufacturing activity in the Mid-Atlantic region; the National Association of Realtors reports February existing home sales; Freddie Mac releases weekly mortgage rates; and the Conference Board releases leading indicators for February.
These major companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial statements:
After Market: Stocks Stumble After Hawkish Fed Cuts Stimulus
Don't parse every receipt and monthly bank statement, says Wenli Wang, a partner in the tax practice at Moss Adams in San Francisco. "Do some homework, so you know what is deductible and what is not," she says. "When you understand what is relevant to your tax prep, you’ll have a game plan."
"Clients spend a lot of time chasing small deductions. I tell them not to go crazy documenting $5 here or $10 there. Concentrate on bigger expenses that save the most in taxes," Wang adds. "And don’t spend money on unnecessary expenses just to save on your taxes."
Avoid such audit triggers as running a cash business, claiming large deductions on minimal income, and reporting dependent exemptions for people who may not actually be your dependents for tax purposes, says Ebong Eka, a Washington accountant and author of "Start Me Up: The No-Business-Plan Business Plan."
If you report a business loss year after year, you risk having the IRS declare your company a hobby, says Mark MacLeod, an accountant and chief financial officer for FreshBooks. "Filling in your Schedule C with nice, even, rounded numbers in the hundreds or thousands is another red flag," he adds.
Buy an accounting system that automates your back office tasks, including tracking income and tax-deductible expenses. There are free and low-cost software packages available, too. FreshBooks' MacLeod -- who obviously has a dog in the fight -- advises business owners to steer clear of software that's designed for professional accountants. "If it's too complicated, you won't understand it and then you won’t use it," he says.
Spare your sanity by hiring a professional who will do right by your tax return while you work for your clients or drum up new business. "What is your time worth?" MacLeod asks. "If you're a graphic designer charging $100 an hour or more, do you want to spend hours on taxes?"
Running late and wilting under the pressure? "File an extension," Berger advises. "If you wait until the last minute, you'll make a lot of mistakes and you could miss the deadline anyway."
If you owe money, pay up. Or at least pay part of your liability and get on a payment plan for the rest. "Clients worry about owing money they don't have. But it's important to file your return on time, or file an extension at least," Berger says. Putting it off will only result in fines and penalties down the line -- not a prospect that invites much in the way of zen.