CNBC Daily Open: U.S. stocks don’t seem bothered by inflation, ignore jump in retail sales

Jessica Thompson

People walk along 5th Avenue in Manhattan, one of the nation’s premier shopping streets on February 15, 2023 in New York City.
Spencer Platt | Getty Images News | Getty Images

This report is from today’s CNBC Daily Open, our new, international markets newsletter. CNBC Daily Open brings investors up to speed on everything they need to know, no matter where they are. Like what you see? You can subscribe here.

What you need to know today

  • U.S. stocks ticked higher Wednesday, regaining ground after a brief drop that followed the retail sales report. Asia-Pacific markets traded higher on Thursday, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index surging 2.31%. Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 0.71% despite the country’s trade deficit soaring to a record 3.5 trillion yen ($26 billion). Bitcoin jumped to$24,633.31, its highest since August 2022.
  • BYD is so much ahead of Tesla in China … it’s almost ridiculous,” said Charlie Munger, Berkshire Hathaway’s vice chairman. He called the Chinese electric vehicle maker his favorite stock ever. Berkshire doesn’t seem to like TSMC so much anymore, however, dumping almost 86% of those shares between the third and fourth quarter of 2022.
  • PRO Investors are “not just fighting but also taunting the Fed,” said JPMorgan’s Marko Kolanovic, who correctly called the March 2020 bottom. He warned that a sell-off in stocks could happen soon.

The bottom line

It’s as if investors aren’t concerned about inflation and higher interest rates anymore. Strength in the U.S. economy — which would imply further rate hikes — has been translating into gains in the markets.

Yesterday I mentioned how sustained consumer spending might be propping up the economy. Indeed, the year-over-year increase in January’s retail sales — 6.4% — is exactly the same number as the year-on-year rise in the consumer price index. It appears that the prospect of sustained economic growth is injecting optimism into stocks too. The Dow Jones Industrial Average edged up 0.11%, the S&P 500 added 0.28% and the Nasdaq Composite rose 0.92%.

Recent economic activity and market movement are forcing economists and investors to reconsider the effect of interest rates. The higher cost of borrowing typically slows economic growth by curtailing spending and increasing unemployment which, in turn, depress stocks. Yet “the monthly reports on industrial production, retail sales, and jobs were generally better than expected and point to a pickup in economic activity in early 2023 after a soft patch in late 2022,” as Bill Adams, chief economist for Comerica Bank, put it.

This topsy-turvy relationship between higher interest rates and a pickup in economic activity is causing some investors, such as the founder of Satori Fund, Dan Niles, to predict that the Federal Reserve might raise rates higher than 6%. And if the price of everything keeps rising even then? It’s hard to imagine what the Fed would do next.

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