US stocks rebound as investors weigh bank earnings and Fed rates outlook

US stocks reversed earlier losses on Friday as investors analysed a mixed set of bank earnings against a backdrop of easing inflation.

Wall Street’s blue-chip S&P 500 had gained 0.2 per cent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite added 0.4 per cent in afternoon trading, having both been in negative territory in the morning. The indices were on track to notch their second straight week of gains.

Line chart of Shares in the electric car manufacturer have fallen 25% in the past month alone showing Tesla's stock continues to slide

Investor attention is beginning to turn to earnings season, which stepped up a gear Friday with a mixed set of results for some of America’s biggest finance groups. Year-on-year net income inched higher at Bank of America and JPMorgan, while Wells Fargo’s quarterly profit halved from a year ago primarily due to a hit from multibillion-dollar fines. Asset manager BlackRock reported a 15 per cent decline in revenues.

Although investors are weighing the medium-term outlook for the sector against debate about a potential recession this year, lenders have broadly benefited from the Federal Reserve’s aggressive campaign to raise interest rates.

Concerns in the market over a looming recession meant analysts last year lowered their earnings per share estimates for S&P 500 companies by 6.5 per cent for the fourth quarter, a larger margin than average, according to FactSet.

Friday’s moves came after a stock market rally the previous day when data showed annual US inflation declined for the sixth consecutive month to 6.5 per cent, the lowest consumer price index reading in a year. Rates markets priced in a higher probability that the Fed will slow the pace of its monetary tightening at its next meeting in February, with a 0.25 percentage point rise firmly expected to follow December’s half a percentage point increase.

“The Fed is getting closer to the end of the rate hiking cycle, which we believe is likely by the end of the first quarter,” said analysts at UBS Global Wealth Management. Even so, the “tightness of the labour market” means rates are unlikely to fall any time soon, with the US unemployment rate at a 50-year low, jobs vacancy rates elevated and the quit rate — “which is correlated with wage growth” — too high to justify a so-called Fed pivot any time soon.

However, figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show average hourly earnings rose by less than expected in December, while companies such as Amazon, Meta, Twitter and Goldman Sachs have begun job cuts.

US government bonds sold off on Friday, with the yield on the two-year Treasury note, which is particularly sensitive to interest rate expectations, rising 0.1 percentage points to 4.24 per cent, having peaked at 4.7 per cent in November.

“Treasury yields tend to decline by 50 to 60 [basis points] on average once the Fed goes on hold, and with our final expected rate hike still over two months away, this rally seems somewhat premature,” said analysts at JPMorgan.

Seema Shah, chief global strategist at Principal Asset Management, said even if inflation fell past 4 per cent late this year, permitting looser monetary policy, “markets will still be challenged due to earnings concerns”.

“If inflation plateaus there, then the Fed will have very little space to cut rates this year,” Shah added. “Not a great outcome, either way.”

A measure of the dollar’s strength against a basket of six other currencies was 0.1 per cent lower on Friday, after declining 0.9 per cent in the previous session. The world’s de facto reserve currency has shed almost 10 per cent over the past three months.

Elsewhere in equity markets, Europe’s Stoxx 600 added 0.5 per cent, London’s FTSE 100 gained 0.6 per cent to nudge closer to an all-time high and Germany’s Dax added 0.2 per cent.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index gained 1 per cent and China’s CSI 300 index of Shanghai and Shenzhen-listed shares added 1.4 per cent. Data released on Friday showed China’s exports suffered the sharpest fall in almost three years in December, declining 9.9 per cent on an annual basis in dollar terms.

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