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Stocks up, bond yields fall as markets mull a Fed policy pause


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Stocks up, bond yields fall as markets mull a Fed policy pause

STOCKS. A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York City, March 23, 2023.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters

The US Federal Reserve's hint of a pause in interest rate hikes provides relief to markets on Thursday, March 23

NEW YORK, USA – Wall Street stocks rose on Thursday, March 23, pushing up global stock indexes, and Treasury yields fell, as investors took comfort that the Federal Reserve might pause its interest rate rises to offset the turmoil in financial markets.

The gains in US stocks offset losses in Europe, where a post-Credit Suisse rebound sputtered to a halt as Switzerland, Norway, and Britain all showed the yearlong cycle of sharp interest rate rises was by no means over.

The Fed’s hint of a pause after announcing a quarter-point rate rise on Wednesday, March 22, even as it restated its commitment to fight inflation, provided relief to markets.

But decisions by the Swiss National Bank (SNB) to jack up rates despite a torrid week following the takeover of Credit Suisse and by the Bank of England (BoE) to hoist borrowing costs after a nasty inflation surprise were reminders not to get carried away.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 0.23% after a bout of choppy trading late in the day. The S&P 500 trimmed earlier gains to end up 0.3%, and the Nasdaq Composite jumped 1%. The gains helped MSCI’s main world share index to rise 0.54%.

Stephen Innes, a managing partner at SPI Asset Management, said investors are betting that despite the Fed’s vows to tame inflation, there is a chance “the Fed loses its nerve and downshifts anyway.”

“Note the modern-day history book of Fed pauses is very bullish for stocks,” Innes said.

In line with more modest rate expectations, the 2-year yield, which rises with traders’ expectations of the Fed fund rates, retreated to 3.8267% compared with Wednesday’s close of 3.981%. The yield on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes also fell to 3.4173% compared with 3.5% the previous day.

In Europe, news of the rate hikes in Switzerland and Britain helped push the European-wide STOXX 600 share index down 0.21%. The banking sector was again a drag, with the index of top European banks down 2.53%.

Investor bets of a more dovish Fed put the dollar on the back foot, with the dollar index flat after hitting a seven-week low earlier in the session. The pound barely budged, having already added to its near 5% rally over the last fortnight with a 0.22% rise to $1.22969.

John Leiper, Titan Asset Management’s chief investment officer, said the BoE’s hike came as no surprise following Wednesday’s painful inflation data.

“We think there is more to come,” he added, although he cautioned the result could be a recession.

Fed chief Jerome Powell had said that, while inflation remained a problem, the current stresses in the banking sector could have a significant impact on the US economy, thereby reducing the need for rate rises.

Germany’s hawkish European Central Bank rate setter, Joachim Nagel, on Wednesday said he thought eurozone rates were “approaching restrictive territory,” referring to a level that curtails growth.

“I do not know when we will more or less be there,” he said at an event in London. “But what I know is that when we are there we have to stay there and not come down too early.”

The euro softened 0.2% after trading higher most of the session, while the yen remained up on the day after the SNB’s half-point hike.

Bright futures

US stocks sold off on Wednesday after US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told lawmakers that she had not considered or discussed creating “blanket insurance” for US banking deposits without approval from Congress.

Markets are now pricing in an approximately 65% chance of the Fed pausing at its next meeting, in May, and a 35% chance of a 25-basis-point rise.

For bond markets it meant European government bond yields – which reflect borrowing costs – were heading down again. German Bunds were back at 2.25%, having seen 10-year US Treasury yields dip back below 3.5%.

Among commodities, Brent oil, which has fallen nearly 9% this month, slipped 1% to $75.91 a barrel. Gold, which benefits from a more dovish Fed and which is up more than 8% for March, rose 1.18% to $1,992.77 an ounce.

“The thought of peak US rates being within reach is bolstering [gold] prices,” said Han Tan, chief market analyst at Exinity. “As long as market expectations for a 2023 rate cut remain intact, gold may well revisit the psychologically important $2,000 mark.” –

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