- Nasdaq, S&P 500 down; Dow advancing
- Industrials lead S&P sector gains; healthcare lags
- STOXX 600 reverses, now down ~0.1%
- Dollar, crude, gold, Bitcoin all lower
- U.S. 10-yr Treasury yield ~1.74%
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PPI, JOBLESS CLAIMS TELL A TALE OF TWO WAVES: OMICRON AND INFLATION (1030 EST/1530 GMT)
A data duet released on Thursday provided another glimmer of hope that the inflation wave has crested and supply chains are right-sizing, even if swelling Omicron infections are leading to longer unemployment lines.
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The prices U.S. companies get for their goods at the factory door (USPPFD=ECI) grew at a decelerated pace in December, with the headline ‘final demand’ print showing a monthly gain of 0.2%, comfortably lower than the 0.4% consensus. read more
On an annual basis, PPI shed 0.1 percentage point to a still-white-hot 9.7%.
The slowdown adds to slowly gathering evidence (notably PMI data) that the hobbled global supply chain is gradually finding its legs.
So-called ‘core’ PPI, which strips out volatile food, energy and trade services, cooled down as well, rising 0.4% compared with November’s 0.8% gain.
Year-on-year, while core PPI growth didn’t budge from 6.9%, it remains hotter than consumer gauges (CPI, PCE), which suggests companies aren’t quite done passing price increases along to the consumer.
“Persistent supply disruptions will pin producer prices near record levels in the near term, especially given a rapidly spreading Omicron variant that will fan inflation pressures,” writes Mahir Rasheed, U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. “The PPI data adds to growing evidence that the Fed will commence rate lift off in March and undergo balance sheet reduction mid-year.”
Indeed, as evidenced by last week’s FOMC policy meeting minutes and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s words before Congress this week, the central bank has removed its gloves and called out inflation, with at least three interest rate hikes now in the cards this year. read more
The graphic below shows core PPI and other indicators, all of which continue to sail well above the Fed’s average annual 2% inflation target.
The number of U.S. workers filling out first-time applications for unemployment benefits (USJOB=ECI) unexpectedly rose last week to 230,000, defying the slight decline to an even 200,000 economists predicted. read more
It was the highest reading in two months, and sits comfortably within the range associated with healthy labor market churn.
But healthy churn unfortunately is not the likely culprit, as rise probably reflects surging infections of the Omicron COVID variant rather than increased willingness on the part of employers to hand out pink slips amid the ongoing worker drought.
“We expect some noise in the data owing to a surge in virus cases which may push up claims temporarily,” says Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics. “Beyond weekly moves, filings will likely remain low given businesses will be reluctant to reduce their workforce amid a labor shortage.”
Continuing claims (USJOBN=ECI), reported on a one-week lag, provided the bigger surprise, dropping to 1.559 million and dipping below the 1.7 million level for the first time since mid-March 2020, when mandated lockdowns to contain the pandemic sent the economy into a tailspin.
The jobless claims data jibes well with the Labor Departments December employment report, which showed the newly unemployed’s slice of the total jobless pie increasing, while the share of long-term unemployed is shrinking.
Wall Street initially greeted the data warmly, opening solidly in green territory but slipping into reverse as the session got under way.
At last glance the Dow was the sole gainer among the major U.S. stock indexes, while cyclicals and economically sensitive chips (.SOX), transports (.DJT) and small caps (.SPCY) were having a good day.
WILL FED BLUNDER AS CONSUMER CONFIDENCE SLIDES? (1000 EST/1500 GMT)
A major policy error may be in the works as the Federal Reserve prepares to raise interest rates with consumer confidence in sharp decline, observes Joe LaVorgna, chief economist for the Americas at Natixis in New York.
Consumer confidence in the past 40 years has never been as depressed as it is now before a looming rate hike, LaVorgna says. A sharp slowdown is in the offing because last year’s econmic boom was largely due to fiscal stimulus, he says.
Unlike the time prior to past rate hikes, consumer confidence is on the wane instead of rising.
“In fact, the Fed has never increased rates with confidence so low,” LaVorngna said in a note.
In March 1983 when the Fed nudged the federal funds rate higher, the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index was at 80.8 had risen 15 points from seven months earlier, he said.
In January 1987, a rate liftoff began with the sentiment index at 90.4. After cutting rates following the stock market crash in October 1987, the Fed raised rates in March 1988 with confidence at 94.6 and it was about the same in 1994, when rates were hiked and confidence was 93.2, LaVorgna said.
Confidence was 107.3 when a hiking cycle began in June 1999, and at the beginning of the last two hiking cycles in June 2004 and December 2015, the index was at 95.6 and 92.6, respectfully.
The average starting value for consumer confidence over the past eight cycles was 94.3, with the trend moving higher. The final December reading was 70.6.
“Today’s low and falling level of confidence hints of a policy error if the Fed acts so soon,” LaVorgna warned.
STOCK INDEX FUTURES ADVANCE AFTER PPI (0910 EST/1410 GMT)
U.S. stock index futures are higher early on Thursday, with the S&P 500 e-minis up about 0.3%, after the latest batch of economic data, including a report showing U.S. producer price inflation slowed in December.
It showed other hopeful signs that inflation has probably peaked. read more Equity investors have been concerned about inflation, with minutes from the Federal Reserve’s December meeting released last week signaling the central bank may have to raise rates sooner than some had expected to curb inflation.
The morning data also included a Labor Department report showing that the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose in the first week of January amid raging COVID-19 infections.
The number remained at a level consistent with rapidly tightening labor market conditions, however.
Wall Street ended higher on Wednesday as U.S. consumer prices data roughly met economists’ expectations, easing some investor anxiety about inflation.
Friday brings earnings reports from some of Wall Street’s biggest banks, including JPMorgan Chase (JPM.N), to kick off the quarterly reporting period for U.S. companies.
Here is the U.S. premarket snapshot:
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