Wall Street and the broader economy already had a full roster of concerns before the threat of the US defaulting on its debt became sharply highlighted on the list.
“Should we avoid that, and it appears that is a high probability, we come back to a trajectory of a slowing economy, still-too-high inflation and restrictive monetary policy,” said Bill Northey, senior investment director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management.
A key measure of inflation that is closely watched by the Federal Reserve ticked higher than economists expected in April.
The persistent pressure from inflation complicates the Fed’s fight against high prices. The central bank has been aggressively raising interest rates since 2022, but recently signalled it will likely forgo a rate hike when it meets in mid-June. The latest government report on inflation is raising concerns about the Fed’s next move.
Wall Street is now leaning slightly toward the potential for another quarter-point rate hike in June, according to CME’s Fedwatch tool. The Fed has already raised its benchmark interest rate 10 times in a row.
The Fed faces a difficult choice at its next meeting, wrote Brian Rose, senior US economist at UBS, in a report.
“Inflation is too high but further rate hikes could push the economy into recession,” he said.
Bond yields had been slipping just prior to the latest inflation data, but rose following the report. The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which helps set rates for mortgages and other important loans, rose to 3.80 per cent from 3.78 per cent just before the report was released.
Movement for the two-year Treasury yield, which tends to track expectations for Fed action, was more forceful. It jumped to 4.56 per cent from 4.49 per cent prior to the report.
The latest inflation data also highlighted the continued resilience of consumer spending, which has been a key bulwark, along with the strong jobs market, against a recession. The economy grew at a sluggish 1.3 per cent annual rate from January through March and it is projected to accelerate to a 2 per cent pace in the current April-June quarter.
The impact from inflation and worries about a recession on the horizon have been hitting corporate profits and forecasts. The latest round of company earnings is nearing a close with the profits for companies in the S&P 500 contracting about 2 per cent. That follows a previous quarterly contraction and Wall Street expects the current quarter to end with more shrinking profits.
Beauty products company Ulta Beauty fell 13.4 per cent after trimming its forecast for profit margins. Discount retailer Big Lots fell 13.3 per cent after reporting a much bigger loss last quarter than analysts expected.
Investors rewarded several companies that reported strong financial results. Gap rose 12.4 per cent after reporting a strong first-quarter profit.
Markets are heading into a long weekend and will be closed in the US for the Memorial Day holiday on Monday. Investors have another busy week of economic updates ahead, including more data on consumer confidence and employment.
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