A sharp rise in consumer prices could put US monetary officials in a bind

London (AFP) - Stock markets traded narrowly mixed Tuesday with investors sitting tight ahead of key events this week, notably US inflation data and a meeting of the European Central Bank.

Thursday features both the publication of keenly-awaited US inflation numbers and the outcome of the ECB’s latest rates meeting.

Investors are concerned that strong inflation as pandemic-hit economies reopen to the world could lead to higher interest rates, putting the brakes on recovery.

European indices won modest gains in afternoon trading on Tuesday after Asian equities mostly suffered small losses.

Wall Street opened mixed, with the Dow moving marginally lower.

Equities around the world are sitting close to record or multi-year highs after a stellar rally lasting more than a year, fuelled by central bank largesse, vast government stimulus worth trillions of dollars, the rollout of vaccines and easing lockdowns in major economies.

But there is an increasing fear that the explosive recovery in the United States will send prices rocketing and force the Federal Reserve to wind back its market-supportive measures to prevent overheating, such as raising interest rates.

“Investors are awaiting bigger events later in the week, which may spark some more movement in the markets,” noted Fawad Razaqzada, market analyst at ThinkMarkets.

“The European Central Bank is likely to quell any calls for early tapering of its bond purchases programme, and this could see European indices extend their gains.”

He added that unless the US inflation number “comes in well ahead of expectations, the Fed’s stance will not change materially”.

Thursday’s US data is expected to show that consumer prices jumped 4.7 percent last month, which would be the highest level since 2008.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said that while any spike in prices caused by US President Joe Biden’s proposed $4.0-trillion aid plan would be short-term, higher borrowing costs would actually be welcomed after a decade of low inflation and rates.

The timing of “when the (Fed) will begin tapering its asset purchase programme is still front and centre for market participants”, said Kim Mundy at Commonwealth Bank of Australia, adding that officials would likely begin discussing a wind-down of their bond-buying programme in July or September.

In Asia, Tokyo’s main stocks index finished in the red Tuesday as traders brushed off news that Japan’s economy shrank less than estimated in the first three months of the year.

TDAmeritrade analyst JJ Kinahan said there are currently no catalysts to drive stocks to new highs.

“It’s one of those times when investors have to be super careful, because when there’s nothing to trade on, stories that normally wouldn’t get a lot of play can sometimes start to seem really important,” he said in a note to clients.

- Key figures at 1330 GMT -

London - FTSE 100: UP 0.6 percent at 7,119.97 points

Frankfurt - DAX 30: UP 0.2 percent at 15,713.17

Paris - CAC 40: UP 0.4 percent at 6,572.19

EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.4 percent at 4,115.55

New York - Dow: DOWN less than 0.1 percent at 34,621.91

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.2 percent at 28,963.56 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: FLAT at 28,781.38 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.5 percent at 3,580.11 (close)

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.2181 from $1.2191 at 2100 GMT

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.4143 from $1.4181

Euro/pound: UP at 86.13 pence from 85.94 pence

Dollar/yen: UP at 109.38 yen from 109.26 yen

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 0.3 percent at $71.29 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.1 percent at $69.16 per barrel