Futures ease on caution ahead of inflation data

By Thomson Reuters Feb 13, 2024 | 5:20 AM

(Reuters) – U.S. stock index futures slipped on Tuesday with investors stepping to the sidelines ahead of an inflation print that could threaten to halt recent investor enthusiasm and offer clues on the timeline for interest rate cuts.

Focus is pinned on the trajectory of the consumer price index in January, following a modest revision to inflation in the last quarter of 2023 that left investors broadly relieved.

Economists polled by Reuters expect consumer inflation to rise to 2.9% on an annual basis in January after 3.4% growth in December. Excluding volatile items like food and energy, prices are forecast to rise to 3.7%, easing from a 3.9% increase in December.

With a March rate cut unlikely against the backdrop of a resilient economy, bets for the first reduction are concentrated around May and June, with the odds for the former at 55.9%, down from above 95% in early January, the CME FedWatch tool showed.

Wall Street has been on a rally, with the benchmark S&P 500 ending higher in 14 out of the past 15 weeks, a first occurrence since March 1972. Similarly, the Dow is trading at record high levels and on Monday the Nasdaq briefly surpassed its record closing high from November 2021.

Hopes of imminent monetary policy easing this year had kicked off the rally in November 2023, further boosted by signs of healthy corporate performance. Markets also continue to reward megacaps that have led the recent hype around artificial intelligence, as Nvidia briefly surpassed Amazon.com in market capitalization on Monday.

Investors are also cheering robust economic performance, where a Bank of America survey showed they have cut cash levels and boosted equity allocations as they no longer expect an economic recession for the first time since April 2022.

“Far from buckling under the gathering weight of higher borrowing costs, the U.S. economy would seem to be reaccelerating on latest evidence,” said Will Hobbs, head of UK multi-asset wealth at Barclays Private Bank & Wealth Management.

“This coming release will play an important role in deciding the path of monetary policy in the first half of the year.”

At 5:30 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were down 62 points, or 0.16%, S&P 500 e-minis were down 18.75 points, or 0.37%, and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were down 111.5 points, or 0.62%.

Quarterly earnings continue to roll in, with reports from Biogen, Coca-Cola, Datadog, Marriott International, Zoetis and Shopify due before the opening bell.

Among premarket movers, Jetblue Airways jumped 14.2% after activist investor Carl Icahn reported a 9.91% stake, adding that the carrier’s stock is ‘undervalued’.

Arista Networks shed 6.2% after the cloud solutions provider forecast current-quarter adjusted gross margin below market expectations.

Software firm Cadence Design Systems dropped 6.9% following a bleak quarterly sales forecast.

Paramount Global climbed 1% after CBS said about 123.4 million people watched the Kansas City Chiefs defeat the San Francisco 49ers, making it the most-watched Super Bowl ever.

(Reporting by Johann M Cherian and Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru’ Editing by Maju Samuel)