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Marketmind: PCE in our time as US economy impresses

Published 2024/01/26, 13:04
Updated 2024/01/26, 13:09
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., January 23, 2024. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo
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A look at the day ahead in U.S. and global markets from Mike Dolan

There was little for markets to dislike in the impressive sweep of U.S. economic and corporate healthchecks on Thursday - unless of course you're wary of higher oil prices or hold Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) shares.

The icing on the cake later today would be confirmation in December's PCE inflation update that the Federal Reserve is effectively hitting its target already as it prepares to meet next week for the first time in 2024.

Once again, Wall St stocks clocked another record high after news that real U.S. GDP growth raced past forecasts in the fourth quarter - jumping 3.3% even as various underlying inflation measures sank to 2% or below.

Although a slowdown from the blowout 4.9% the previous the quarter, GDP for the full calendar year exceeded 3% - making a mockery of consensus forecasts for 2023 contraction just 12 months earlier and recession predictions from many.

Most strikingly, the boom comes as core PCE inflation for the quarter ran at the Fed's 2% target. And even though there were quibbles in some quarters about how GDP deflator is calculated, its 1.5% rate in Q4 - taken at face value - is a green light for the central bank.

With many annualised cuts of PCE inflation, the Fed's favored gauge, now at or below target, the Street forecasts the year-on-year core rate dropped to 3.0% last month.

And even if you were concerned the labor market is still too tight, there was a bounceback in weekly jobless claims data too on Thursday to keep things in check.

With one eye on next week's Treasury refunding announcements as well as the Fed meeting, Treasury yields fell back and Fed futures moved to up full-year easing to as much as 140 basis points again and a 50-50 chance of a March start.

Also thrown into the mix was a dovish take on the European Central Bank's latest meeting, which markets read as holding out a greater chance of a rate cut there as soon as April and ECB sources said an even earlier move was possible.

What's more, core inflation in Japan's capital slowed below the central bank's 2% target to the lowest rate in nearly two years, data showed on Friday, raising more questions about whether the Bank of Japan should be any rush to up rates there.

What could go wrong?

Well, a jumpback in crude oil prices gave worriers something to chew on. Oil hit a 2024 high and was heading for a second weekly gain - in part spurred by the U.S. economic growth picture, but also signs of more Chinese stimulus emerging alongside Middle East supply concerns.

That said, year-on-year crude prices are tracking losses of more than 5%.

But the corporate earnings season wasn't all sweetness and light either.

Electric automaker Tesla's latest sales warning saw it depart the 'Magnificent Seven' of megacap stock leaders - shedding 12% and some $80 billion in market cap on Thursday.

And chipmaker Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) was another outlier, plunging 10% overnight after the bell as it forecast revenue for the first quarter that could miss market estimates by more than $2 billion.

Wall St futures were slightly in the red ahead of Friday's open. The dollar index was a touch lower.

The other concern is whether China's officials can get across the worrying economic and market funk there.

Aided by some signs of more potent monetary and fiscal stimulus measures from Beijing this week, Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) data showed investors poured almost $12 billion into Chinese equity funds in the week to Wednesday, the most in a week since 2015.

But as China prepares for the Lunar New Year holiday break early next month, stock markets there gave back some of the week's bounce on Friday and many foreign investors remain unsure of how the government can restore confidence and stabilise the ongoing property bust.

A key offshore bondholder group of China Evergrande plans to join a petition to liquidate the developer at a hearing in a Hong Kong court on Monday. The bondholder group owns more than $2 billion in offshore notes guaranteed by Evergrande and its support to a winding-up petition against the world's most indebted developer increases the chances of an immediate liquidation order.

And many provinces in China, including the financial hub of Shanghai, have set modest 2024 economic growth targets after missing their previous goals, in a sign that a nationwide recovery to pre-pandemic levels would prove elusive this year.

On the other hand, relatively wealthy Chinese still seem to be spending. LVMH (EPA:LVMH) jumped 8.2% in Europe after the world's largest luxury group posted a 10% rise in fourth-quarter sales, driven by resilient demand, including from China.

Key diary items that may provide direction to U.S. markets later on Friday:

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., January 23, 2024. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

* U.S. Dec PCE inflation estimates, Dec pending home sales

* U.S. corporate earnings: American Express (NYSE:AXP), Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL), Norfolk Southern (NYSE:NSC)

(By Mike Dolan, editing by Ros Russell mike.dolan@thomsonreuters.com)

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