Investors seem keen to put the March bank shock behind them, but inflation’s grim persistence makes it difficult to clear the horizon.
The final day of the month and first quarter — and the approach of Easter breaks in parts of the world — allows many markets to bookend the banking turbulence to some degree as the storm damage to wider economy is assessed. But for most major stock and bond investments beyond the banking sector itself, the quarter remained a pretty upbeat one overall.
As the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending to banks stabilized at high levels in the week to Wednesday, Fed officials appear to have reverted to “wait and see” mode on further interest rate rises and will weigh up a final quarter point hike now meeting to meeting.
While all seem to chime with the view that a hit to lending from the regional bank disturbance may now do some of the Fed’s job for it, they remain uncomfortable about inflation.
“Inflation remains too high, and recent indicators reinforce my view that there is more work to do,” said Boston Fed chief Susan Collins.
Although somewhat dated now given this month’s events, Friday sees a February update for the Fed’s favored personal consumption expenditures (PCE) measure of inflation — the annual core rate that is expected to have stuck last month at 4.7% and more than twice the Fed target.
Heavy hitters from the Fed’s board and policymaking council are also on the speech trail later in the day. Futures markets are still broadly split on the chances of another Fed hike in May, but leaned a bit more on Friday to one more quarter point move.
Beyond America, a picture of slowly ebbing but sticky inflation was also in evidence.
Flash euro zone inflation for March surprised with a larger-than-expected 1.6 percentage point drop during the month and fell below 7% for the first time in a year. But core inflation, excluding energy and unprocessed food, ticked up as forecast to a new record high for the bloc at 7.5%.
But — like much else in the macro economy at the moment — the data picture remains fuzzy around the world.
Germany said import price inflation fell to its lowest in two years at 2.8% in February. Core inflation in Tokyo slowed in for the second month in a row in March to 3.2%, even though higher than forecast and still above Bank of Japan targets.
Britain’s house prices fell at an annual rate of 3.1% this month — the fastest drop since the real estate and banking crash 14 years ago.
And the latest business surveys from China cast some doubts on the speed of the manufacturing recovery there.
Broadly speaking, financial markets were steady on Friday. Two-year Treasury yields briefly hit a one-week high of 4.168% before slipping back and Treasury volatility ebbed to its lowest since March 13. Asia and Europe stock indices were steady to higher and Wall St futures were likewise.
The dollar is ending a relatively quiet quarter on the front foot and rose on Friday.
(By Mike Dolan, Reuters columnist)
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