By STAN CHOE
NEW YORK (AP) — Wall Street is ticking higher Monday to open a week where central banks are likely to unload the year’s final barrage of interest-rate hikes meant to drive down the world’s painfully high inflation.
The S&P 500 was 0.5% higher in midday trading, trimming its loss for the year so far to 17% The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 265 points, or 0.8%, at 33,741, as of 11:30 a.m. Eastern time, and the Nasdaq composite was 0.3% higher.
The main reasons for Wall Street’s struggles this year have been high inflation and the higher interest rates engineered to combat it. On Wednesday, markets expect the Federal Reserve to announce its last rate hike of the year following a blitzkrieg that began in March.
Higher rates slow the economy by design and risk causing a recession if they go too high, all while dragging down prices of investments. One upside for investors is that the Fed has hinted it will dial down the size of its rate hikes, leading to expectations for a more modest increase of 0.50 percentage points on Wednesday. That would follow four straight mega-hikes of 0.75 percentage points. Each was triple the Fed’s usual move, and they brought the central bank’s key overnight rate up to a range of 3.75% to 4% after starting the year at virtually zero.
Other central banks around the world are also likely to raise their own rates by half a percentage point this week, including the European Central Bank.
Any dial down in the size of rate hikes would mean less added pain for markets and the economy. Such hopes have helped stocks and bonds rally since mid-October, as investors have taken data reports to mean the worst of inflation has finally passed and would allow the Fed to ease up.
But expectations for a slowdown in rate hikes may also be setting some investors up for disappointment, if central banks signal this week they’ll ultimately take rates higher than markets expect. While they aren’t the clear majority of the market, many traders are betting on the Fed’s overnight interest rate to top out at a range of 4.75% to 5% next year, for example.
Economists at Goldman Sachs expect Fed policy makers on Wednesday to signal their median expectation is for rates to peak at a range of 5% to 5.25%, up by half a percentage point from their last projection.
Some investors also continue to make moves in anticipation of the Fed cutting interest rates during the second half of 2023. Rate cuts generally act like steroids for stocks and other investments, but the Fed has been insisting it plans to hold rates at a high level for some time to ensure the battle against inflation is won.
Even if inflation is indeed on its way down, the global economy still faces threats from the rate increases already pushed through. The housing industry and other businesses that rely on low interest rates have shown particular weakness, and worries are rising about the strength of corporate profits broadly.
“Inflation Data and Fed Is Yesterday’s News; Focus on Earnings Risk” was the title of a report published Monday by strategists at Morgan Stanley.
The next big milestone for markets comes Tuesday, when the U.S. government releases the latest update on inflation at the consumer level. Economists expect to see inflation slowed to 7.3% last month from 7.7% in October. The data will arrive as the Fed begins its two-day policy meeting on what to do with interest rates.
Besides raising short-term rates, the Fed is also making other moves with its vast trove of Treasury notes that should effectively allow longer-term yields to rise.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which helps set rates for mortgages and other economy-setting loans, eased to 3.57% from 3.59% late Friday. The two-year yield, which tends to more closely track expectations for the Fed, rose to 4.36% from 4.34%.
In overseas stock markets, Asian indexes fell amid signs of a s urge in coronavirus infections in China. The country is in the midst of easing some of its “zero-COVID” pandemic restrictions, which stifled the world’s second-largest economy.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index lost 2.2%, while stocks in Shanghai fell 0.9%.
Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 fell 0.2% after a survey of Japanese manufacturers showed a sharp deterioration in their outlook, with recession a growing possibility in the U.S. and other major markets.
On Wall Street, Microsoft rose 2% and was the biggest single force lifting the S&P 500. The London Stock Exchange Group agreed to a 10-year deal where it will move data to Microsoft’s cloud and spend at least $2.8 billion. Microsoft is also taking a 4% ownership stake in the company.
Shares in Horizon Therapeutics jumped 15% after Amgen announced it would acquire the biopharmaceutical company for about $26.4 billion.
Stocks of energy producers were also making big gains after the price of oil rose. Last week, crude prices scraped their lowest levels of the year on worries about a weakening global economy, which would mean less demand for energy.
AP Business Writer Elaine Kurtenbach contributed from Bangkok and AP Business Writer Matt Ott contributed from Washington.