GLOBAL MARKETS-Stocks near flat as timing of US rate cuts weighed; copper jumps

BY Reuters | ECONOMIC | 05/17/24 03:22 PM EDT


U.S. stocks little changed in afternoon New York trading


Treasury yields rise


Nickel and copper prices surge

(Updates to 2:50 p.m. ET)

By Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK, May 17 (Reuters) - World stock indexes were nearly flat while U.S. Treasury yields rose on Friday as investors tried to assess the timing of potential interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve this year.

The S&P 500 was almost unchanged on the day but on track for gains for the week.

Copper surged to a 26-month peak after China announced fresh support for its ailing property sector, while nickel prices touched their highest level since August 2023 amid unrest in nickel producer New Caledonia.

Data from earlier this week showing softening consumer prices in April boosted expectations that the U.S. central bank will be able to cut rates twice this year, beginning in September.

Much depends, however, on what happens with price pressures in the coming months, and Fed officials have hinted U.S. rates may not fall anytime soon.

On Friday, Fed Governor Michelle Bowman repeated her view that inflation will fall further with the policy rate held steady, but said she has seen no improvement on inflation this year and remains willing to hike rates should progress stall or reverse.

Minutes from the Fed's most recent policy meeting are due next week and may offer more detail on what Fed officials are looking at in order to begin cutting rates. The meeting from April 30-May 1, however, was before Wednesday's CPI data.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 88.92 points, or 0.22%, to 39,958.30, the S&P 500 gained 1.57 points, or 0.03%, to 5,298.74 and the Nasdaq Composite lost 23.07 points, or 0.14%, to 16,675.25.

"People are now looking at the next catalyst. Most likely it's going to be whether or not the Fed actually cuts," said Robert Pavlik, senior portfolio manager at Dakota Wealth.

MSCI's gauge of stocks across the globe rose 0.40 points, or 0.05%, to 794.48. The STOXX 600 index fell 0.13%.

A report showed European Central Bank board member Isabel Schnabel advocated caution about further interest rate cuts after a likely first one in June.

In Asia, Chinese blue-chips staged a late rally on Friday, as the government unveiled a series of "historic" steps to underpin the property sector, which has lurched from crisis to crisis and weighed on overall economic growth.

Shanghai's CSI 300 ended 1% up, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index hit its highest since August 2022, up 0.9%.

In Treasuries, the yield on benchmark U.S. 10-year notes rose 4.1 basis points to 4.418% from 4.377% late on Thursday.

The dollar traded little changed against major currencies.

The dollar index, which measures it against a basket of currencies including the yen and the euro, fell 0.05% to 104.45, with the euro up 0.06% at $1.0872.

Against the Japanese yen, the dollar strengthened 0.15% to 155.61.

The Japanese currency has fallen around 9.5% this year as the Bank of Japan has kept monetary policy loose while higher U.S. rates have drawn money toward U.S. bonds and the dollar.

Tokyo is suspected to have intervened on at least two days in late April and early May to support the yen after it tumbled to lows last seen more than three decades ago.

Three-month nickel on London Metal Exchange (LME) surged 7.5% to $21,290 a metric ton by 1335 GMT, after touching $21,365, the highest since August 2023.

LME copper climbed 2% to $10,627 per ton, the strongest since March 2022.

U.S. crude gained 83 cents to settle at $80.06 a barrel and Brent rose 71 cents to settle at $83.98 per barrel.

(Additional reporting by Amanda Cooper in London and Ankur Banerjee in Singapore and Bansari Mayur Kamdar and Shristi Achar A in Bengaluru; Editing by Jane Merriman, Toby Chopra Jonathan Oatis)

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