Stock market today: US futures hold near records as Powell buoys rate-cut hopes

US stocks held near all-time highs on Wednesday as Jerome Powell’s remarks to the Senate buoyed rate-cut hopes, with the Federal Reserve chair set to return to Congress for another day of testimony.

S&P 500 futures (ES=F) rose roughly 0.2%, coming off a 36th record close for the benchmark. Dow Jones Industrial Average futures (YM=F) wobbled along the flatline, while contracts on the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 (NQ=F) edged 0.3% higher.

Bets on interest-rate cuts have helped stocks eke out fresh all-time highs, as signs of slowing in the US economy pile up. The S&P 500 (^GSPC) and Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC) both logged six closing wins in a row.

In his policy update on Tuesday, Powell hinted the stage is almost set for lowering interest rates from two-decade highs, pointing to cooling in inflation and the jobs market. He also cautioned that keeping rates elevated for too long could weaken the economy, giving hope to rate cut-hungry investors.

The focus is now on Powell’s appearance in the House on Wednesday for part two of his twice-yearly policy update. Investors will be on the alert for clues to whether bets that two rate reductions are coming this year are well-placed.

But a key test for stocks and rate-cut prospects still lies ahead, in the crucial consumer inflation report due on Thursday. While a cooler reading will cement in the likelihood of a Fed policy shift in September, a too-cool print is seen as potentially reviving concerns about a recession and the labor market.

Meanwhile, TSMC (TSM) shares popped after the Taiwanese chipmaker’s second-quarter sales grew at their fastest pace since 2022, thanks to the AI boom. In other corporate news, Microsoft (MSFT) and Apple (AAPL) dropped plans to take observer board seats at OpenAi as antitrust scrutiny heats up.

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    Chipotle CFO retirement

    I have been at this a while, and with that you really get to know some of these executives leading really giant companies. Given my background (analyst first, then journalist), I have long gravitated toward chats with CFOs — who I think in many cases are the CEOs behind the scenes.

    Two of my favorite CFOs are Disney’s (DIS) Hugh Johnston and Chipotle’s (CMG) Jack Hartung. They are my favorites because they are just good people, but also are incredibly impressive operators and strategic thinkers.

    Hugh surprised the heck out of me by leaving PepsiCo (PEP) after being there forever and joining Disney as its CFO late in 2023. I think he is really enjoying the new challenge of shaping this iconic media company. Once Iger announces his successor, I think Hugh will help onboard them and head off into a well-deserved retirement and board life.

    Similarly, Jack Hartung surprised me by announcing he is retiring from Chipotle last night.

    Hartung has been there almost since Steve Ells founded the burrito chain, taking it from 200 locations to more than 3,500. He is sitting on a ton of money because of his work growing the company. But despite his success, he really hasn’t changed a bit — still head down being a CFO and a normal human.

    As with Hugh, I would not be surprised if Hartung has one more public company gig in him. It would be good if it were a CEO gig — he has earned that shot.

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