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Wall Street points higher ahead of jobs and inflation data

Financial Markets Wall Street
FILE – The New York Stock Exchange on June 29, 2022, in New York.
(AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson, File)

Wall Street pointed higher in premarket trading Thursday ahead of employment and inflation data that may offer hints about how aggressive the Federal Reserve’s next move will be in its battle against inflation.

Futures for the Dow inched up 0.2% and the S&P 500 rose 0.3% before the bell.

The U.S. releases data on weekly unemployment claims Thursday. The jobs market has been a strong area in an uneven economy, making it more difficult for the Fed to tame inflation. There are nearly two available jobs for every unemployed American and the unemployment rate is historically low at 3.7%. Fed officials have said the unemployment rate will need to reach 4% to have a meaningful impact on rising prices.

On Friday, the U.S. releases data on wholesale prices that will provide more details on how inflation is affecting businesses and consumers. There has been some evidence that inflation has eased the past few months, but not nearly enough for the Fed to dramatically change its aggressive course of rate hikes.

The Fed has raised its benchmark interest rate six times since March, with its key rate now in a range of 3.75% to 4%, the highest in 15 years.

Most observers expect the Fed to raise its rate by another half-point when it meets next week, which would be a slightly lighter touch than its last four increases of three-quarters of a point.

Elsewhere, shares rose more than 3% in Hong Kong as investors assessed the potential impact of a rollback of many pandemic restrictions on the Chinese mainland.

On Wednesday, rules on isolating people with COVID-19 were eased and virus test requirements were dropped for some public places in a dramatic change to a strategy that had confined millions of people to their homes and sparked protests and demands for President Xi Jinping to resign.

Experts warned, however, that the “zero-COVID” restrictions can’t be lifted completely until at least mid-2023 because millions of elderly people still must be vaccinated and the health care system strengthened.

“Specifically, there are three reasons to be restrained, if not circumspect, on China cheer. First, the simple point that the unwind of entrenched zero-COVID policies will take time and perhaps be a bumpy process rather than a linear path to instant gratification,” Mizuho Bank said in a commentary.

In Europe at midday, Germany’s DAX fell 0.2% and the CAC 40 in Paris inched down 0.1%. Britain’s FTSE 100 was flat.

In Asian trading, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gained 3.4% to 19,450.23, while the Shanghai Composite lost 0.1% to 3,197.35.

Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 declined 0.4% to 27,574.43 after Japan revised upward its GDP data to show the economy contracted less than earlier reported in July-September, in a sign the country weathered its latest big COVID wave with less damage than had been thought.

The Cabinet Office reported Thursday that the economy shrank at a 0.8% annual rate in July-September. That was better than minus 1.2% annual growth reported earlier.

In quarterly terms, the world’s third-largest economy contracted 0.2% instead of 0.3%.

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 sank 0.8% to 7,175.50 and South Korea’s Kospi dropped 0.5% to 2,371.08. Shares also fell in Bangkok, Mumbai and Taiwan.

Wall Street ended a wobbly day of trading with more losses Wednesday, with the S&P 500 down 0.2% in its fifth straight loss. The Nasdaq composite, which is heavily weighted with tech stocks, fell 0.5% and the Dow industrials were flat.

Investors have been dealing with a relative lack of news ahead of updates on inflation and consumer sentiment later this week, and the Federal Reserve’s meeting next week. Inflation, the Fed’s aggressive interest rate increases and recession worries remain the big concerns for Wall Street.

Many economists expect the U.S. economy to slip into a recession in 2023, at least a minor one, and markets have taken a beating this year as a result.

In other trading, U.S. crude rose $1.67 to $73.68 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Wednesday, it fell 3%, settling at $72.01 per gallon, the lowest price this year.

Brent crude oil gained 88 cents to $78.05 per barrel.

The U.S. dollar rose to 136.79 Japanese yen from 136.58 yen. The euro climbed to $1.0520 from $1.0508.

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