A couple of ugly inflation numbers and strong retail sales numbers took Wall Street on another wild rally last week.
In the middle of the week, market participants were spooked by a couple of additional unattractive inflation numbers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics on Wednesday released the June Consumer Price Index (CPI), a measure of retail inflation and a proxy for the cost of living. It rose at an annual rate of 9.1%, up from 8.6% in May and ahead of market expectations of 8.8%.
The usual suspects behind the nearly double-digit rise in the CPI were food and energy costs, with energy jumping 40.6% and food rising 10.4%. However, the core CPI, which excludes food and energy, rose 5.9%, confirming that inflation is still mainly a food and energy problem.
The June Producer Price Index (PPI), a measure of inflation at the wholesale level, was released on Thursday. It jumped at a whopping annual rate of 11.3%, up from 10.9% in May and ahead of market expectations, signaling that inflation pressures at the wholesale level continued to mount.
At the end of the week, the Census Bureau reported June retail sales, a measure of consumer spending at the nation’s brick-and-mortar and online retailers. Retail sales rose at an annual rate of 8.4%, up from 8.2% in May, beating market expectations of a 6.5% rise. But the June retail sales number is elusive, as it lags behind the inflation number of 9.2%, meaning that retail sales dropped in real terms.
The result was an equity market that opened sharply lower on Wednesday and Thursday but the markets made a comeback towards the end of both sessions, staging a big rally on Friday following the release of retail sales.
Wall Street has looked beyond the June inflation numbers to July numbers, which could show that inflation is beginning to de-accelerate, as some of the pressures driving inflation have been easing. For instance, crude oil dropped from the low $120s in early June to mid-$90s last week. In addition, the Baltic Exchange Dry Index (BDI) — a measure of transportation costs — has lost close to one-third of its value in the last 30 days, while the FAO food price index has dropped slightly.
The easing of inflation pressures changes the expectations game regarding Fed policy on Wall Street.
“While last month’s (May) CPI report convinced investors that the Fed remained well behind the inflation curve and was going to have to do way more than what was currently priced in, catalyzing a pretty sharp market downdraft, this time around the market had already recalibrated to potentially much tighter financial conditions and higher than forecast interest rates,” Amanda Agati, Chief Investment Officer of PNC Asset Management Group, told International Business Times in an email.
“Remember, everything is happening at warp speed this cycle. The market had already priced in the following path for Fed rate hikes: 75bps (July), 50bps (Sept), 25bps (Nov), and a 46% chance of zero in Dec. “
That could help provide a floor for the market. Meanwhile, investor attention will turn to the earnings season that is shifting into high gear in the next two weeks and will determine whether the equity market continues to regain some of the lost ground or heads into new lows.