Stocks recover poise after traders take an axe to rate bets

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - LONDON, Feb 14 — Global stocks pared losses and stabilised today, while the dollar and Treasury yields held near their recent highs, after traders pared back expectations for the pace and scale of rate cuts by the Federal Reserve this year.

The latest shift in rate expectations came after an upside surprise in US inflation yesterday that showed the consumer price index (CPI) rose 3.1 per cent on an annual basis, above forecasts for a 2.9 per cent increase.

The data has prompted traders to slash their bets on where US rates will go this year.

Futures now point to about 90 basis points worth of cuts from the Fed by December, roughly four quarter-point drops, compared to 110 bps prior to the data release and 160 bps at the end of 2023.

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With the prospect of a steep drop in interest rates ebbing, investors kept the pressure on global stocks, which had rallied strongly towards the end of last year on aggressive bets for rate cuts by major central banks globally in 2024.

The MSCI All-World index, which hit two-year highs on Monday, was flat on the day, following a drop on Wall Street overnight that pulled the S&P 500 back below 5,000 points. US futures were up 0.4-0.6 per cent.

Worryingly for investors, the CPI report showed an unexpected pickup in stickier elements, such as service-sector inflation and shelter, helped drive the overall increase.

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“When you get a jump like this, and the year-on-year figures really show this rather than the monthly ones, that’s a shock because it just shows that it’s not all plain sailing and we may get more increases in inflation,” Trade Nation senior market analyst David Morrison said.

“We should be surprised by the jump in inflation, because I don’t think anyone was thinking about that. It was more how slowly do we get down towards 2 per cent, and this is like kicking the ladder away a bit,” he said.

In Europe, the Stoxx edged up 0.5 per cent as a flurry of stronger earnings boosted the regional index.

Even Japan’s Nikkei, which hit its highest in 34 years yesterday, was not spared from the beating and fell 0.7 per cent.

The recent rally in the Nikkei has been greased by a sliding yen, which weakened past the key 150 per dollar level for the first time this year yesterday.

The yen last stood at 150.60 per dollar. The 150 level has been seen in the past as a potential catalyst for intervention by Japanese monetary authorities. It was just past this level that they intervened to shore up the yen in late 2022.

“If they do try intervention, I think it’ll be near... the (dollar/yen) high from October 2022 and the high we saw in mid-November,” said Tony Sycamore, a market analyst at IG.

Japan’s top currency officials warned today against what they described as rapid and speculative yen moves overnight.

Higher for longer

Yields on 10-year US Treasuries struck their highest in more than two months following yesterday’s inflation report, which gave the dollar a burst of strength.

Today, the benchmark 10-year yield was down 1 bp at 4.305 per cent, below a session peak of 4.332 per cent.

With yields holding firm, the dollar clawed into positive territory against a basket of currencies to 104.89, having hit its highest since November yesterday.

“The attendant, broad-based US dollar surge admittedly reflects (the) corresponding surge in US Treasury yields,” said Vishnu Varathan, chief economist for Asia ex-Japan at Mizuho Bank.

Sterling fell 0.3 per cent to US$1.2554 (RM6.01), after UK data showed inflation did not pick up as expected last month.

In cryptocurrencies, bitcoin rose 4.2 per cent and is beyond the US$50,000 level, bringing its total market capitalisation above US$1 trillion for the first time since November 2021.

Oil prices rose, building on yesterday’s gains, as geopolitical tensions lingered in the Middle East and eastern Europe.

US crude traded up 0.1 per cent at US$77.91, while Brent futures were up 0.1 per cent at US$82.88.

Gold meanwhile fell 0.1 per cent to US$1,990 an ounce. — Reuters

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