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Morning bid: Dow flirts with 40k, China fights homes bust

In Technology
May 17, 2024

A look at the day ahead in U.S. and global markets from Mike Dolan

After a week of worldwide stock market records, Friday seems set for a breather – with attention switching to the deepening Chinese housing bust and sweeping government plans to stop the rot there.

Thursday’s saw the blue-chip Dow Jones briefly top the 40,000 milestone as the S&P500, Nasdaq and MCSI all-country index all clocked all-time intraday highs too.

Signs of U.S. disinflation resuming and the wider economy cooling all stoked hopes that Federal Reserve interest rate cuts are indeed coming – with annual corporate profit growth and year-to-date stock index gains revving up into double digits.

As both a reflection of and spur to the new bullishness, the VIX ‘fear index’ of equity volatility subsided to its lowest level of the year on Friday. And futures held steady overnight after a modest tick back in the cash market on Thursday.

But as the Sino-U.S. geopolitical rivalry intensified this week with new trade tariffs from Washington and the Russia-China summit in Beijing, market attention switched to the health of the world’s second biggest economy and data showing accelerating home price deflation there.

Chinese stocks jumped on Friday as the government announced a series of measures to cut across a housing slump that’s seen new home prices fall in April for tenth consecutive month and at the fastest pace in almost 10 years – with property investment so far in 2024 falling almost 10% from last year.

The latest rescue plans allows local governments to buy “some” unsold apartments, relaxes mortgage rules and pledges to deliver unfinished homes.

With 4.25 billion square feet of new housing for sale in January-March, up 24% year-on-year, analysts at Tianfeng Securities estimate it will cost around $1 trillion to buy the entire stock.

Separately, the People’s Bank of China said it would set up a $41.53 billion relending facility for affordable housing and lower mortgage rates and downpayment requirements further.

China’s CSI 300 Real Estate index jumped nearly 9% on the announcements, with broader CSI300 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng both up about 1%. The offshore yuan weakened slightly.

The extent to which the property sector problems are sapping the economy were revealed in a further slowing of retail sales growth there last month to just 2.3%, the slowest increase since December 2022 and far short of forecasts.

The renewed Chinese export push that unnerves western governments and is prompting renewed trade tensions saw industrial production growth beat expectations, however, and accelerate to an annual 6.7% last month.

Back on Wall Street, part of the subdued end to Thursday’s trading was due to a modest backup in Treasury yields after news of a pickup in U.S. import price inflation that forms an important component of the Fed’s favored PCE inflation gauge.

Ten-year Treasury yields hovered just under 4.40% on Friday and the dollar was firmer too.

But the wider sweep of U.S. housing, jobless and industry updates released in parallel showed the economy coming off the boil – with U.S. economic surprise indexes plumbing their most negative in 16 months.

Fed officials mostly welcomed the tick lower in consumer prices this week, but continued to stress patience before cutting rates. Futures markets are still largely priced for a quarter point cut by September, with a one-in-three chance of a move as soon as July.

In corporate results, WalMart was a standout and its stock rose 7% after the retail giant raised its fiscal 2025 sales and profit forecast, betting on easing inflation to further boost demand for essentials.

Friday’s diary is mostly bare – with Fed speakers dominating. AI-bellwether Nvidia’s results next week are now in view, while the ‘meme stocks’ craze of the earlier part of the week seems to have dissipated again.

In Europe, June interest rate cut hopes remain high but there was some dampening of easing expectations after that from European Central Bank board member Isabel Schnabel.

“The path beyond June is much more uncertain,” she said.

Key diary items that may provide direction to U.S. markets later on Friday:

* US April leading index

* Federal Reserve Board Governor Christopher Waller and San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly speak

(By Mike Dolan; Editing by Toby Chopra; mike.dolan@thomsonreuters.com)

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