Stocks dropped after a report indicated US wholesale prices rose at a record pace last month, increasing pressure on the Federal Reserve to bring its bond purchase programme to an end.
Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 fell 1.3 per cent, led by an 8.9 per cent drop in the shares of Adobe, the creative software maker. The technology-focused Nasdaq Composite fell 2 per cent. A 4.1 per cent fall in Microsoft shares contributed to the dip in both indices.
US producer prices rose 9.6 per cent in November from the same month the previous year, the biggest rise on records going back to 2010 and a sharp uptick from 8.8 per cent the previous month. Economists polled by Reuters had expected prices to advance at a 9.2 per cent rate in November.
“The rapid rise in producer prices serves as further confirmation that the US economy is experiencing a generalised rise in prices that is broader, more persistent, and less clearly tied to the pandemic than Fed officials had assumed,” said Andrew Hollenhorst, an economist at Citigroup.
Markets across the Atlantic also fell after the start of trade in the US, with the Europe-wide Stoxx 600 index closing down 0.8 per cent and Frankfurt’s Dax off 1.1 per cent. London’s FTSE 100 was down 0.2 per cent.
Investors are awaiting announcements this week from three central banks on how they will balance rapid inflation with the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
Some economists expect the Fed will announce on Wednesday plans to slow its bond-purchasing programme more rapidly than it had indicated at its meeting last month. That would set the stage for rate rises from historic lows around the middle of next year.
“Possible outcomes at the 15 December Federal Open Market Committee meeting range from a modest acceleration of the taper to a sharp acceleration that reflects acute inflation worries, signalling a fast pace of rate hikes,” said Steven Englander at Standard Chartered in New York.
“Our client discussions suggest that market participants see a significant risk of a sharp taper acceleration.”
Ahead of the Fed, yields across Treasury maturities were higher, leading to a slight steepening of the yield curve, a small countermove amid the general flattening trend that has persisted since October. The benchmark 10-year yield rose 0.03 percentage points to 1.44 per cent. The two-year yield, which moves with interest rate expectations, moved up 0.02 percentage points to 0.66 per cent.
In the UK, investors are betting that the rapid spread of Omicron has reduced the chances that the Bank of England will tighten monetary policy at Thursday’s meeting.
Investors will also be closely scrutinising the European Central Bank meeting, scheduled for Thursday, for clues on how it will respond to the rise in inflation across the eurozone. Its €1.85tn pandemic-era bond-buying programme is set to cease net purchases in March.
Inflation in the eurozone rose to 4.9 per cent in November, outstripping the 4.5 per cent expected on average by economists polled by Reuters.
Although prices for everything from energy and housing to food are rising in each region, the three central banks face subtly different pressures, according to Georgina Taylor, fund manager at Invesco Emea.
“Going back to the financial crisis, it was all about [the banks] being pretty co-ordinated,” she said. “Now everyone is fighting their own domestic dilemmas and they’re all doing their own thing.”
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