A bear market in Bitcoin. A bull market in Bitcoin. Taper talk, or talk thereof. The biggest pop for meme stocks of the season. A lot just happened, and yet when the history of this week is written, it’s possible a much quieter development will be the lead.
After intensifying earlier this month, inflation anxiety appears to be easing. Rates on 10-year breakevens dropped by the most on a weekly basis since September, capping any rise in Treasury yields. Meanwhile, a surge in raw materials continued to sputter, with the Bloomberg Commodity Spot Index sinking for a second straight week.
That was enough to comfort investors in big tech. The Nasdaq 100 posted its first weekly gain in over a month, after being rattled by warnings that soaring prices would eat into future cash flows and shine a harsh light on expensive valuations. And while minutes from the Federal Reserve’s April meeting signaled an openness to discussing a scaling back of asset purchases, comments that it would “likely be some time” until the economy recovers to that point helped prevent any knee-jerk reactions.
“Inflation is really only a problem for stocks if it’s going to bring the Fed off the sidelines,” said Brian Nick, chief investment strategist at Nuveen. “If you see interest rates falling, if you see inflation expectations receding, if you see the Fed continuing to come out with overall dovish minutes, it tends to be a pretty friendly environment for tech.”
Whether or not the U.S. economy has seen peak growth, a series of weaker-than-expected reports have helped quell inflation fears. Last month’s housing starts were lower than anticipated, while the pace of mortgage applications slowed from the prior month. On Thursday, data from the Philadelphia Fed showed manufacturing activity in the region eased in May from a 48-year high the prior month.
As a result, Citigroup Inc.’s economic surprise gauge — which measures the magnitude to which reports either beat or miss forecasts — briefly dropped into negative territory for the first time since June 2020 this week.
The Nasdaq 100 held onto a 0.1% gain this week as inflation expectations ebbed, snapping a four-week losing streak. Tech eked out a gain as cryptocurrencies ricocheted, with Bitcoin dropping 12% on Friday alone after China reiterated its intent to to crack down on mining.
Still, some warn that it’s too early to signal the all-clear on inflation risks. Anxiety around price pressures in the coming months should be a boon for defensive sectors and particularly favor financials, while eating into growth stocks with duration-sensitive cash flows, according to State Street Global Advisors.
“Because there’s so much disagreement on how inflation may unfold, that disagreement in the market will inevitably lead to volatility,” said Olivia Engel, chief investment officer of SSGA’s active quantitative equity team. “If you look at the aggregate market, it’s hiding some of that market rotation — that’s where you can see much bigger moves.”