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Wall St gains; data suggests inflation may be on downward trend


Traders work on the trading floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., January 5, 2023. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

U.S. stocks were higher in late afternoon trading Thursday as data showing a fall in consumer prices in December bolstered expectations of less aggressive interest rate hikes.

The Labor Department’s report showed U.S. consumer prices grew 6.5% on an annual basis in December, in line with expectations. While it was the smallest rise since October 2021 and followed a 7.1% advance in November, the headline inflation number remains above the Federal Reserve’s 2% target.

“The report confirms that inflation is in a downward trend and that it has reversed,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities in New York.

Trading was choppy initially following the report, with the indexes mixed following recent strong market gains.

But some strategists said the slowdown in U.S. inflation last month may pave the way for the Fed to be able to bring down consumer prices without badly damaging growth.

Traders’ bets of a 25-basis point rate hike by the Fed in February shot up to 91% after the inflation data, from 77% previously.

Microsoft (MSFT.O) shares were providing the biggest boost to the S&P 500, energy shares also were higher along with oil prices.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (.DJI) rose 251.07 points, or 0.74%, to 34,224.08, the S&P 500 (.SPX) gained 19.89 points, or 0.50%, to 3,989.5 and the Nasdaq Composite (.IXIC) added 72.55 points, or 0.66%, to 11,004.22.

The Fed raised the key rate by 50 basis points in December, after four back-to-back 75-bps hikes, but also indicated a prolonged period of rate hikes to above 5% in 2023.

Friday brings results from a number of big U.S. banks, kicking off the start of the fourth-quarter earnings season for S&P 500 companies.

Overall S&P 500 earnings are expected to have declined year-over-year in the fourth quarter, according to IBES data from Refinitiv, which would be the first quarterly U.S. earnings decline since 2020.

A separate report showed weekly jobless claims fell last week, signaling a still tight labor market.

Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker and St. Louis Fed President James Bullard acknowledged the moderation in prices, but stressed on the need for further monetary policy tightening to bring inflation down to the central bank’s target.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 4.18-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.48-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 14 new 52-week highs and one new low; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 80 new highs and 16 new lows.

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