Sunday, April 14, 2024

Stock market today: Wall Street drifts as markets wait for inflation report

by Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Wall Street is drifting Wednesday ahead of a report that could help bolster or dash the hopes that sent stocks surging into the end of last year.

The S&P 500 was 0.2% higher in early trading, a day after barely budging. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 109 points, or 0.3%, as of 9:40 a.m. Eastern time, and the Nasdaq composite was 0.3% higher.

Intuitive Surgical rose 6.5% after the maker of robotic surgery systems said it expects to report stronger revenue for the end of 2023 than analysts expected. Homebuilder Lennar climbed 3.7% after it said it would send cash to shareholders by increasing its dividend and authorizing a repurchase of up to $5 billion of its own stock.

But the market’s focus is on Thursday, when the U.S. government will release its latest monthly update on inflation at the consumer level. A cooldown there from its peak in the summer of 2022 has raised hopes that the Federal Reserve may cut interest rates sharply this year. That in turn has sent Treasury yields easing in the bond market and stock prices rallying toward record heights.

Economists expect Thursday’s report to show prices paid by U.S. consumers were 3.2% higher in December than a year earlier, according to FactSet. That would be a slight acceleration from November’s 3.1% inflation rate. But after ignoring the effects of food and fuel prices, which can quickly shift month to month, economists believe underlying inflation trends likely continued to cool.

The Fed has noticed the cooldown in inflation, and it’s hinted at possibly cutting interest rates three times this year. That would be a sharp turnaround after it jacked rates dramatically higher in hopes of slowing the economy and hurting investment prices enough to grind down high inflation.

But many traders are anticipating double that number of rate cuts. Critics say that’s overly optimistic and that the Fed is unlikely to cut so many times unless a recession hits. If Thursday’s inflation data come in warmer than expected, it could upend those hopes and shake the market.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury has already slumped well below its perch above 5% in October on strong hopes for rate cuts. It slipped a bit Wednesday to 4.00% from 4.02% late Tuesday.

On Wall Street, Boeing stock stabilized after slumping earlier in the week following the in-flight blowout of one of its planes flying for Alaska Airlines. It rose 1.5%.

WD-40 jumped 12.9% after reporting stronger profit for the latest quarter than analysts expected.

The big companies in the S&P 500 are set to begin reporting their results for the last three months of 2023 on Friday. Delta Air Lines, JPMorgan Chase and UnitedHealth Group will be among that day’s headliners.

In stock markets abroad, Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 gained 2% to hit its highest level since March 1990 as a weaker yen lifted shares of exporters. The yen sank on speculation the Bank of Japan may keep its ultra-lax monetary policy after wages fell for a 20th straight month in November. A weaker yen can boost profits for companies that sell their products in other currencies.

Indexes were mostly lower across much of the rest of Asia and Europe.

In cryptocurrencies, bitcoin was down following a wild run that saw its price spike and then tumble a day before. Crypto investors have been excited about the potential for U.S. regulators to allow the trading of exchange-traded funds that hold actual bitcoins, instead of just futures contracts related to them.

Late Wednesday, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s account on X, formerly known as Twitter, said that it had approved such ETFs. Soon after, though, the SEC said no approval had been given and that its account had been compromised.

It’s the latest eye-twitching shenanigan in a corner of the market that SEC Chair Gary Gensler in 2021 called the “Wild West” because it didn’t have enough protections for investors at the time.

In the oil market, crude prices rose to recover some more of their sharp losses from the start of the week. A barrel of benchmark U.S. oil rose 1.1% to $73.07. Brent crude, the international standard, gained 1% to $78.33 per barrel.

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