Futures flat before key inflation test

By Thomson Reuters May 15, 2024 | 4:37 AM

(Reuters) – U.S. stock index futures were little changed on Wednesday ahead of the crucial consumer prices data that will test the recent market rally fueled by hopes of monetary policy easing by the Federal Reserve.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq notched a fresh record closing high on Tuesday after Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s assessment of U.S. growth and inflation reassured investors as they digested hotter-than-expected producer prices print for April.

The U.S. Labor Department is expected to report that the consumer price index (CPI) likely gained 0.4% in April, reflecting a similar rise in March, according to economists polled by Reuters.

A stronger-than-expected CPI could amplify concerns about sticky inflation and spark worries that a too-hot economy will force the Fed to delay its interest rates easing cycle.

“While we’d expect it to remain too elevated for the US Federal Reserve to feel confident that the time has come to start cutting interest rates, it would mark a step in the right direction,” said Julien Lafargue, chief market strategist at Barclays Private Bank, in a note.

Traders see a 50.5% chance that the U.S. central bank will start cutting rates in September, according to the CME FedWatch Tool.

Still, stocks have rallied so far this year on better-than-expected earnings for the first quarter and expectations that the Fed will be able to cool inflation without badly hurting growth and eventually transition to cutting interest rates.

The benchmark S&P 500 is whiskers away from a record high, while the blue-chip Dow is also set to breach the 40,000-mark for the first time.

Retail sales data is on tap at 8:30 am ET, while investors will also keep a close eye on commentary from Federal Reserve officials including Neel Kashkari, Michael Barr and Michelle Bowman.

At 05:02 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were up 11 points, or 0.03%, S&P 500 e-minis were up 2.75 points, or 0.05%, and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were up 1 points, or 0.01%.

Most megacap growth and technology stocks were range-bound in premarket trading, while Tesla outpaced peers with a 0.8% advance.

Retail investor darlings such as GameStop and AMC Entertainment gained 14.5% and 11.7%, respectively, set to extend this week’s rally after posts from “Roaring Kitty” Keith Gill, a central figure behind the 2021 meme stock frenzy.

Shares of New York Community Bancorp rose 4.9% after the embattled lender said on Tuesday it has agreed to sell about $5 billion in mortgage warehouse loans to JPMorgan Chase.

(Reporting by Bansari Mayur Kamdar in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)