Stocks are off to a weak start on Wall Street following some mixed news on the economy. The S&P 500 was down 0.5% Friday. The government reported that a key measure of inflation is continuing to slow, though it’s still far higher than anyone wants to see. Also, growth in consumer spending weakened last month by more than expected, but incomes were a bit stronger than expected. Treasury yields rose following the reports. Markets are in a tricky spot where strong reports reduce the risk of a recession but also raise the threat of higher interest rates from the Federal Reserve.
On tap Friday is the Commerce Department’s consumer spending report for November, which includes measure of inflation that is closely monitored by the Federal Reserve. The report for October showed that inflation eased somewhat, with prices rising 6% in October from a year earlier. That was the smallest increase since November 2021.
Analysts surveyed by data firm FactSet expect that number to have fallen further, to 5.5% in November. That would be good news for American consumers, who have been squeezed by higher prices for just about everything for the past year-and-a-half.
The Fed is believed to monitor the inflation gauge in the consumer spending report, called the personal consumption expenditures price index, even more closely than it does the government’s better-known consumer price index. But whether a projected half-percentage point decline would move Fed policymakers to soften their stance on future rate hikes remains to be seen.
Last week, the central bank boosted its benchmark rate a half-point to a range of 4.25% to 4.5%, its highest level in 15 years. More surprisingly, the policymakers forecast that their key short-term rate will reach a range of 5% to 5.25% by the end of 2023. That suggests that the Fed is poised to raise its rate by an additional three-quarters of a point and leave it there through next year. That has many economists and investors expecting the U.S. economy to fall into recession in 2023.
Japan reported its core inflation rate, excluding volatile fresh foods, rose to 3.7% in November, the highest level since 1981, as surging costs for oil and other commodities added to upward price pressures in the world’s third-largest economy.
While the rate was much lower than in the U.S. and most major European and emerging economies, it adds to pressure on the Bank of Japan to adjust its own policies that have kept interest rates ultra-low to spur growth. For Japan, deflation — falling prices — rather than inflation has been the key concern for most of the past few decades. Recession in coming months remains the greater concern, economists say.
“Inflation edged up in November and will peak at around 4% around the turn of the year, but we expect it to fall back below the Bank of Japan’s 2% target by mid-2023,” Capital Economics economist Marcel Thieliant said in a report.
Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 index lost 1% to 26,242.58 and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong shed 0.5% to 19,578.44. The Shanghai Composite index was unchanged, at 3,054.52 and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 declined 0.7% to 7,099.70.
In Seoul, the Kospi dropped 1.4% to 2,323.09. Shares also fell in Bangkok, Mumbai and Taiwan.
In Europe, London’s FTSE 100 was flat, while Frankfurt’s DAX rose 0.3%. The CAC 40 in Paris dipped 0.1%.
In other trading Friday, U.S. benchmark crude oil rose $1.78 to $79.27 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It fell 80 cents to $77.49 per barrel on Thursday.
Brent crude oil, the pricing basis for international trading, advanced $1.61 to $83.28 per barrel.
The U.S. dollar rose to 132.66 Japanese yen from 132.38 yen. The euro strengthened to $1.0622 from $1.0597.
The S&P 500 fell 1.4% on Thursday after having been down as much as 2.9% earlier in the day. It closed at 3,822.39. The pullback brings Wall Street’s main measure of health back to a loss of nearly 20% for the year.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1% to 33,027.49 and the Nasdaq closed 2.2% lower, at 10,476.12. The Russell 2000 index dropped 1.3% to 1,754.09.