Financial Market Update – Week of 5/20

Major U.S. equity indexes traded higher last week as investors interpreted April wholesale and consumer pricing inflation data. Notably, the Nasdaq traded to a record high on Tuesday, while the Dow and S&P 500 made fresh highs the next day, courtesy of Consumer Price Index (CPI) data.

Overall, for the week, the S&P 500 rose by 1.54%, the Nasdaq 100 increased by 2.12%, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.34%.

With fresh inflation data and record highs in major equity indexes, it is the perfect time to share an overview of the latest developments.

Inflation Data Mixed, Well Received

Consumer Price Index: Consumer inflation eased in April, with monthly CPI data showing a 0.3% monthly increase from March, a tick lower than the 0.4% Dow Jones estimate. Year-over-year, data showed a 3.4% increase, in line with estimates.

Services, notably transportation and “shelter services,” were drivers of higher prices. Shelter costs were up 5.5% from a year ago and continue to show stubbornness. Electricity prices showed a 5.1% increase year-over-year — just in time for the summer cooling season.

Core CPI (which removes volatile food and energy from the metric) was very encouraging, showing a yearly 3.6% gain. This was the lowest reading since April 2021.

Markets reacted positively to the consumer inflation data, with the S&P 500 posting a record-high close on the same day. What more could we ask for here? Treasury yields also traded lower throughout the day after the data release.

The verdict? Inflation is still sticky; there is no doubt about it. However, last week brought a welcome data print that the markets wanted to see.

Producer Price Index: Before the bullish CPI print on Wednesday, Tuesday gave us the April Producer Price Index (PPI) that ran quite hot, with data showing wholesale pricing rising 0.5% in April. This reading was higher than the 0.2% Dow Jones estimate. Looking at yearly data, wholesale data for April increased by 2.2% – the biggest gain in a year. So, the wholesale pricing data was hot.

Akin to CPI, services pricing contributed to the overall rise, showing a 0.6% monthly gain that accounted for around three-quarters of the overall wholesale pricing gain.

Core PPI, which excludes volatile food and energy, rose 0.5% versus the estimate for a 0.2% increase.

Stock index futures were nearly flat following the data release, potentially creating some jitters in anticipation of the next day’s CPI data, but stocks shook off the jitters and rose for the day. The table was set for CPI on the next day, and bulls got what they wanted.

Rate Cut Aspirations

Hopes for Fed rate cuts are alive and well, with the probabilities increasing last week, showing a 29.6% chance of a Fed rate cut in July, versus a 25.4% chance seven days prior, according to the CME FedWatch Tool.

For the September meeting, last week closed with a 64.2% chance of a cut in September versus a 61.2% chance of such occurrence seven days prior, according to the CME FedWatch Tool.

So, the softer-than-expected CPI data boosted the probability of cuts last week, and recent softening consumer sentiment data surely factored into the increased probabilities.

Traders and investors will be paying attention to this week’s Federal Open Market Committee meeting minutes for clues about the Fed’s mood.

Bad News Can Be Good News

Markets are dynamic and fascinating! Sometimes, bad news is bad news. But right now, it feels like we are in a “bad news is good news” market environment when it comes to economic data.

The Fed and market bulls want supportive economic data showing economic metrics slowing/weakening. We will continue to monitor sentiment and the associated narratives.

The Takeaway

All-time highs in the major stock averages may seem counterintuitive given the headwinds that exist in the world. But the trend remains upward as AI continues to fuel investor demand with rate-cut hopes providing extended optimism.

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