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Fresh record highs in S&P500 ahead of FOMC meeting

Vantage Updated Updated Tue, 2024 March 19 08:47

Headlines

* Fed’s Powell set to keep forward guidance to a minimum

* Money marekts boost BoC June rate cut odds as inflation cools

* Nvidia stock 1% higher after it unveils latest AI chips, but no big surprises

* ECB insiders see data deciding frequency of further moves after June cut

FX: USD popped up above 104 on the Dollar Index before retracing. All eyes are on the FOMC meeting which is expected to keep rates unchanged at 23-year highs at 5.25 -5.50%. The focus will be on the new, updated economic projections and dot plot. This will tell us where policymakers predict interest rates, growth and inflation will go in the future.

EUR touched the 200-day SMA at 1.0838 before rebounding modestly. The German ZEW business survey beat expectations, an eighth straight month of improvement. This is from a very low base but does hint at an improved growth outlook with eyes on rate cuts soon.

GBP dipped to a low of 1.2667 before paring losses through the US session. UK CPI data is expected to slow in February on an annual basis though the m/m figure is seen relatively strong. Support is at the 50-day SMA at 1.2686 and then 1.26.

USD/JPY rose sharply after the BoJ ditched ZIRP in an historic move. But it may stick with NIRP for a prolonged period as the bank sees no rush to add to rate hikes for now. The issue the yen has it that the carry trade is very popular and forex volatility remains relatively low. The February high is 150.88, ahead of major resistance at the intervention high at 151.94.

AUD dropped below its 50-day and 200-day SMAs at 0.6557/61. The RBA kept rates at 4.35% but offered a dovish tweak by dropping forward guidance that a further hike in rates cannot be ruled out.  USD/CAD hit a fresh year-to-date high above 1.36 before retracing below the figure. Softer than expected CPI data, the second straight month of sub-3% since early 2021, comes in contrast to the sticky prints in the US. Increasing slack driven by higher rates is hitting prices. The BoC had projected Q1 inflation to average 3.2% but we are heading for a sub-3% print.

Stocks: US equities closed higher as investors await the Fed meeting. The broad-based benchmark S&P 500 closed 0.56% higher to 5178. The tech-dominated Nasdaq 100 added 0.26% to finish at 18,032. The Dow Jones settled 0.83% up at 39,110. The S&P 500 hit another record high, its 18th one of the year. Nvidia stock rebounded after announcing plans for its new flagship AI processor. While the announcements were within expectations, analysts say the chip giant is well placed to continue to benefit from major secular trends. Analysts at Goldman Sachs, the US investment bank, raised their price target to $1,000 from $875. It called the company “one of the key enablers and beneficiaries of the ongoing build out of generative AI infrastructure.”

Asian futures are in the green. APAC stocks traded mixed as it digested the central bank meetings. The Nikkei 225 was supported by the dovish hike and exit from negative interest rate policy. The ASX 200 settled with modest gains after a lack of hawkish bias from the RBA. The Hang Seng lagged as tech weakness dragged the index lower.

Gold is still just about consolidating and above the previous long-term high from December at $2148. The combined net long in gold now exceeds the combined long in WTI and Brent crude oil. Attention turns to the Fed, dot plots and Chair Powell’s press conference.

Day Ahead – UK CPI and Fed Meeting

Expectations are for UK CPI in February to decline to 3.6% y/y from 4.0%. Favourable base effects are likely to outweigh any upside impact from higher fuel prices and input costs from Red Sea disruption. Beyond the upcoming release, expectations remain that inflation will slip below 2% in the coming months before potentially picking up. An August cut is nearly fully priced in, with a total of 59bps of easing seen by year-end. GBP will have one eye on Thursday’s BoE meeting.

Most of the focus on the FOMC meeting will be on the SEP (Summary of Economic Projections) and dot plot. Upward revisions in growth and inflation for 2024 are expected. The December median dot plot showed 75bps of rate cuts this year. There is a major risk of a more hawkish twist to 50bps of rate cuts due to resilient data and US headline inflation stuck around 3%. That is because it will only take two of six FOMC members changing their minds to move the updated median dot down to 50bps.

Chart of the Day – Nasdaq remains in long-term bull channel

The Fed meeting is crucial for markets as it sets monetary policy, impacting interest rates and investor sentiment. At the start of the year, markets were pricing as many as seven 25bp rate cuts. But this has been more than halved to now around 75bps. There is roughly a 60% chance of the first 25bps rate cut in June.

Delaying rate cuts might prolong tight financial conditions and weigh on stocks for an extended period. That said, earnings have been solid supporting higher equity valuations. A hawkish Fed could potentially hurt stocks, with tech and the Nasdaq 100 most sensitive. The Dow Jones is more value orientated so may outperform other major indices. A dovish Fed should help the risk rally. The record high on the Nasdaq is 18,416. Prices remain just below record highs in an ascending channel, with support around 17,760.