Despite Inflation Concerns, Markets Keep Rising

Stocks in Asia and parts of Europe rose on Thursday as investors bet that new data showing inflation easing would finally persuade central bankers to lower interest rates from multidecade highs. The rally has pushed stock indexes on both sides of the Atlantic into record territory.

Another test comes on Thursday when Walmart, a bellwether for U.S. consumer sentiment, reports quarterly results.

The market moves follow Wednesday’s Consumer Price Index report, which came in better than expected. The data showed that so-called core inflation, which strips out volatile food and fuel costs, rose by 3.6 percent on an annual basis last month, the lowest level in three years.

Inflation remains well above the Fed’s 2 percent target, but traders were encouraged by the results. The futures market now sees two Fed rate cuts this year, the first most likely coming in September.

Economists’ main takeaways from the report:

  • The good: Grocery, auto and airfare inflation eased.

  • The concerning: Housing inflation, a huge driver of the overall rate, showed only a modest improvement.

  • The puzzling: The Bureau of Labor Statistics accidentally published the data on the web ahead of schedule. But there were no obvious signs that traders (or their bots) had tried to profit from that mistake, with markets fairly quiet until just after 8:30 a.m. Eastern, the expected release time.

The S&P 500 is up more than 11 percent this year, blowing past most analysts’ 2024 forecasts. At the start of the year, the Wall Street consensus was for inflation to steadily ease, rate cuts to start as soon as the spring andmarkets to rally modestly. Stubbornly high inflation upended that prediction — yet stocks have outperformed many of even the most bullish predictions.

Stronger-than-expected corporate earnings have helped, despite concerns about consumers pulling back on spending. Another factor: The Fed has all but ruled out raising rates, giving investors the sense that monetary policy will be no more restrictive than it is today.

The market rally has been a bonanza for Wall Street. Ken Griffin’s Citadel Securities, a giant market maker, collected about $2.3 billion in trading revenue in the first quarter, according to Bloomberg, putting it on pace for a record year.

The market exuberance isn’t universally shared. Some economists, as well as policymakers like the Minneapolis Fed president, Neel Kashkari (a nonvoting member this year), reiterated that more data like Wednesday’s was needed before the central bank could feel confident that inflation was under control.

Roger Aliaga-Diaz, an economist at Vanguard, was more blunt. Inflation is still too high, he wrote in an investor note on Wednesday, adding that he believes the Fed is unlikely to cut rates this year.

Berkshire Hathaway reveals its mystery holding. Warren Buffett’s conglomerate disclosed on Wednesday that it had built a $6.7 billion stake in the insurer Chubb, after having requested confidential treatment about the investment from the S.E.C. for months. It ended a guessing game on Wall Street about what the Oracle of Omaha had been up to; shares in Chubb were up nearly 8 percent in premarket trading on Thursday.

Vladimir Putin meets with Xi Jinping in Beijing. The visit by Putin, Russia’s president, is meant to bolster support for his full-scale invasion of Ukraine and to pull the countries even closer together against the United States. Xi said their countries were “a model for a new type of international relations,” though he is under growing diplomatic and economic pressure to halt support for Moscow.

Microsoft has reportedly asked China-based employees to relocate. The tech giant has asked hundreds of staff members — most of whom are Chinese nationals — who work on cloud computing and artificial intelligence to consider transferring out of the country amid tensions between Washington and Beijing, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Donald Trump trails President Biden in fund-raising, and much of the money that Trump has raised is going toward his growing legal fees.

But there are signs that he may be able to close that gap. Donors from Wall Street and beyond are warming up to the former president after turning on him over his leadership style and the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, The Times’s Rob Copeland writes.

Unhappiness with Biden is pushing some to reconsider their allegiances. Many donors aren’t exactly excited about Trump: “I still hate the man,” one hedge fund billionaire told The Times. And Trump faces multiple legal fights, including a hush-money trial in New York.

But these figures are increasingly frustrated by Biden’s economic, regulatory and immigration policies. Another point of contention is the White House’s hardening stance on Israel in its war in Gaza.

A prominent example is Ken Griffin. The hedge fund mogul is one the biggest donors to Republicans, but as recently as 2022 derided Trump as a “three-time loser.”

Griffin’s attitude appears to be changing: He told The Times that he’s now “giving serious consideration” to backing Trump, and he and his camp have told the Trump campaign that they’re waiting to see whom the former president picks as his running mate.

Trump also sees opportunities in Silicon Valley. The venture capitalist David Sacks is hosting a fund-raiser at his home on June 6, according to Puck, with attendees including the fellow financier and podcast host Chamath Palihapitiya. And Palmer Luckey, the founder of the virtual reality company Oculus and the defense tech supplier Anduril, will host a fund-raiser on June 8.

That said, Biden last week raised millions during a West Coast fund-raising trip, which included events hosted by the former Yahoo chief Marissa Mayer and the venture capitalist Vinod Khosla.

European regulators are going after Big Tech again. The European Union opened an investigation on Thursday into whether Meta’s hugely popular products are addictive for children.

The case, which carries a potentially big fine, could have wide-ranging implications for how the company designs apps like Instagram and Facebook, The Times’s Adam Satariano writes.

Regulators say children could be at risk. The European Commission, the E.U.’s executive arm, said the company’s social media platforms could “exploit the weaknesses and inexperience of minors” to make them dependent on the tech. The regulators said they had been in contact with their U.S. counterparts.

The apps’ designs could violate the bloc’s Digital Services Act. The landmark 2022 law requires that online platforms police content and mitigate any risks to minors. Users under 13 shouldn’t be able to create an account; the investigators said they would also look into Meta’s age-verification tools.

“We will now investigate in-depth the potential addictive and ‘rabbit hole’ effects of the platforms,” said Thierry Breton, the E.U.’s internal markets commissioner, who is overseeing the investigations.

Meta has consistently said its products are safe for young people. The company did not immediately comment on the new investigation. The company has already made changes to its products to comply with the European law, including blocking targeted ads to children.

The impact of social media on children is high on the political agenda. Governments worldwide are looking to regulate services like TikTok and Instagram, accusing companies of using recommendation algorithms to keep young people glued to their devices — and serve them ads.

And a wave of academics including Jonathan Haidt, an N.Y.U. professor and psychologist, argues that too much exposure to social media is a health risk for adolescents.

It’s the latest effort by European regulators to rein in Big Tech. Last month, the E.U. opened an investigation into Meta over its handling of Russian disinformation. TikTok pulled a version of its app in Europe after E.U. officials raised concerns that some of its features were addictive.

Meta could be fined up to 6 percent of its global revenue if the company is found to have violated the D.S.A.

In years past, the upfronts — broadcasters’ presentations to major advertisers — were the domain of traditional media companies as they unveiled their fall television lineups.

But this year’s beauty pageant reflected the growing power of players like Netflix and Amazon, whose announcements about programming largely stole the show. The technology giants are hoping to seize more ad dollars as advertising becomes a bigger source of their revenue.

Netflix is pushing further into live sports. The streaming platform said it would show at least one Christmas Day N.F.L. game for the next three years. (One of them will feature the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, which has seen its global popularity soar because of the Taylor Swift factor.)

The package — for which Netflix is reportedly paying $75 million per game — reflects the company’s efforts to expand its live sports offerings without getting into the hugely expensive bidding wars that its competitors engage in.

Netflix also announced that its ad-supported tier had hit 40 million monthly active users, up from just five million a year ago.

Amazon made its first appearance at the upfronts, joining Netflix and YouTube, in a signal of its streaming ambitions. (The presentation came as Amazon prepares to start showing ads on its Prime Video service). Amazon’s star-studded show featured celebrities including Reese Witherspoon, Will Ferrell and Jake Gyllenhaal, all of whom star in content airing on Prime Video.

Like Netflix, Amazon also promoted its sports programming, including a third season of N.F.L. games and coming documentaries about stars like the racecar driver Dale Earnhardt and the tennis icon Roger Federer.

Presidential debate news underscored the heft of traditional TV. ABC and CNN announced on Wednesday that they had each scored a face-off between Biden and Trump in perhaps the biggest TV programming coup of the year. (The former CNN chief Jeff Zucker praised the network, predicting that its June 27 debate would be “the most-watched event, day, night, in the history of CNN.”)

The debates came together incredibly quickly, according to The Times: Mark Thompson, CNN’s chair, was about to go onstage for the upfront presentation by his network’s parent, Warner Bros. Discovery, when he got the news. He quickly rewrote his remarks.

  • In other upfront news: Bob Iger, Disney’s chief, said that his media company had overspent in the streaming wars. “Basically we invested too much, way ahead of possible returns,” he said.


Artificial intelligence

Best of the rest

  • McDonald’s, with help from Coca-Cola, is introducing an inflation-era promotion: a $5 meal bundle. (WSJ)

  • Dell has begun tracking badge swipes and rating employees’ attendance with colored flags to enforce its return-to-office policy, drawing complaints from workers. (Business Insider)

  • “For self-driving cars, the free ride is over” (The Verge)

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