Saturday, July 20, 2024

Stock market today: Stocks rise to record heights and yields ease after a cooler update on inflation

by Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are rising toward record levels, oil prices are jumping and bond yields are easing in a busy Friday with plenty of cross currents sweeping Wall Street.

The S&P 500 was up 0.4% in early trading and on track to surpass a record it set two years ago, as earnings reporting season kicked off with a mixed set of results from Delta Air Lines, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 49 points, or 0.1%, as of 9:45 a.m. Eastern time, and the Nasdaq composite was 0.5% higher.

Some of the strongest action was in the oil market, where crude prices rose on worries about potential disruptions to supplies. A barrel of benchmark U.S. oil gained 3.5% to $74.56 after Yemen’s Houthi rebels vowed fierce retaliation for U.S. and U.K. strikes against them. Brent crude, the international standard, rose 3% to $79.77 and likewise clawed back sharp losses from earlier in the week.

In the bond market, yields sank after a report showed inflation at the U.S. wholesale level was weaker last month than economists expected. That followed a report from the prior day that had shown inflation at the consumer level was warmer than expected.

The wholesale report gave Wall Street comfort and bolstered confidence that inflation is cooling enough for the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates several times this year. Rate cuts relax the pressure on the economy and financial system, while boosting prices for investments. And Treasury yields have already sunk since autumn on expectations for coming cuts to rates.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury eased further to 3.93% from 3.99% just before the report’s release. When it was above 5% in October, it was at its highest level since 2007 and putting sharp downward pressure on the stock market.

The two-year Treasury yield, which more closely tracks expectations for the Fed, fell to 4.14% from 4.27% before the wholesale inflation report’s release. Traders rebuilt bets that the Federal Reserve will begin cutting interest rates in March, according to data from CME Group.

Traders are largely betting on the Fed cutting its main interest rate at least six times through 2024. That would be a much more aggressive track than the Fed itself has hinted. Fed officials have even cautioned they may raise rates further if inflation refuses to buckle convincingly toward their target of 2%. The federal funds rate is already at its highest level since 2001 after the Fed drastically increased it.

“The danger of Fed fine-tuning is that they could be fiddling while the economy is burning down,” said Brian Jacobsen, chief economist at Annex Wealth Management. “If they’re data-dependent, that means they’re looking in the rearview mirror. Now they need to shift their gaze forward through the windshield.”

Interest rates are one of the main levers that set where stock prices are. The other is how much profit companies are making, and analysts expect the S&P 500 to deliver a second straight quarter of growth after earlier faltering under the weight of high inflation.

The reporting season for the end of 2023 unofficially got underway Friday with a bevy of reports from banks.

JPMorgan Chase rose 2.3% despite reporting weaker results than expected. Delta Air Lines sank 7.2% even though it reported stronger profit and revenue for the final three months of 2023 than analysts had forecast. The airline said its upcoming full-year profit could be below what analysts had been forecasting.

In stock markets abroad, Japan’s Nikkei 225 jumped 1.5% to cap a week of strong gains that took it to levels unseen since 1990, when the country’s bubble economy was beginning to deflate. Indexes were lower in much of the rest of Asia but higher across Europe.

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