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World markets pause with all eyes on inflation, Fed minutes

April 13, 2023 00:00:00

World stocks and bond yields stalled on Wednesday as markets anticipated crucial US inflation data which could give signals on how soon the Federal Reserve will end its aggressive rate hikes, reports Reuters.

After Friday's jobs report showed a resilient US labour market, emboldening bets of a 25 basis point hike at the Fed's next meeting in May, investor attention is firmly on the March inflation report due later in the day.

The consumer price index is expected to show core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, at 0.4 per cent on a monthly basis and 5.6 per cent year-over-year in March, according to a Reuters poll, which would mark a rise from February's 5.2 per cent in a headache for the Fed.

Markets were in wait-and-see mode ahead of the data, with the pan-European STOXX 600 index inching up 0.3 per cent by 0820 GMT, while Britain's FTSE was up 0.6 per cent. Futures also showed the US S&P 500 index was set to open marginally higher.

In Asia, MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was 0.2 per cent lower in choppy trading, snapping a three-day winning streak.

Government bond yields were also little moved with benchmark US 10-year Treasury yields unchanged on the day at 3.43 per cent.

"The inflation data for March constitutes a glance into the rear-view mirror to the times prior to the turbulence on the US banking market which turned projections upside down," said Esther Reichelt, FX analyst at Commerzbank.

Reichelt said the data was unlikely to affect market bets, which are at odds with the Fed's own projections that it will cut rates later in the year to counter a tightening of financing conditions resulting from the banking turmoil.

"We do not assume that the discrepancy between Fed and market expectations will end today or in the near future," Reichelt said.

Money markets are now pricing in a 73 per cent chance of the Fed raising interest rates by 25 basis points in May then pausing, up from around 50 per cent before Friday's jobs report, then 40 bps of cuts by year-end.

Overnight, Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank President Patrick Harker said he feels the US central bank may soon be done raising interest rates, but reiterated the desire to bring inflation back to its 2 per cent target.

The Fed last month raised interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point, taking it to a range of 4.75 per cent to 5.00 per cent.

"I'm in the camp of getting up above 5 and then sitting there for a while," Harker said.

Minutes of the Fed's March meeting are also due to be released later in the day and investors will parse it for clues on the monetary path of the central bank, as well as the impact of the stress in the banking sector.

The International Monetary Fund warned on Tuesday that lurking financial system vulnerabilities could erupt into a new crisis and slam global growth this year as it lowered its 2023 global growth forecasts.

While markets expect rates moving lower, the cut in oil production announced by the OPEC+ group last week has also fanned fears of inflation flaring up, and for investors to really lower their concerns over inflation there will have to be a clear fall in prices for services, Saxo Markets strategists said.

"We don't think we are there yet. With oil prices rising again and labour market cooling only gradually, risk remains tilted for core inflation to remain elevated for longer," they said.

Brent crude was at $85.68, up 0.1 per cent on the day and has risen over 7 per cent since the OPEC+ decision.

In focus was also China, which said on Wednesday that President Tsai Ing-wen was pushing Taiwan into "stormy seas" after Beijing held military exercises in response to Tsai's recent meeting with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California, which Tsai said showed Taiwan's determination to defend freedom and democracy.

China shares were mixed, with the Shanghai Composite Index (.SSEC) up 0.4 per cent while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index (.HSI) sank 0.9 per cent as investors weighed rising geopolitical tensions.

In the currency market, the dollar index , which measures the US currency against six rivals, was last flat.

The euro was up 0.1 per cent at $1.09205, while sterling was last trading at $1.24105, down 0.1 per cent on the day.

The yen weakened 0.1 per cent to 133.87 per dollar. The IMF said the Bank of Japan could help prevent abrupt policy changes later by allowing more flexibility in its bond yield curve control.

Spot gold was up 0.4 per cent to $2,010.45 an ounce.

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