Stocks turned lower on Tuesday to erase earlier gains as traders digested a new print on consumer inflation, which showed a slightly slower increase in prices last month.
The S&P 500 and Dow each turned lower intraday after opening in the green. The earlier move to the upside came after the Labor Department released its August consumer price index (CPI), which showed a still-heightened level of inflation across consumer goods and services, but a pullback from recent multi-year highs. Treasury yields declined across the curve, and the benchmark 10-year note’s yield hovered just over 1.3%.
The broadest measure of CPI grew 0.3% in August compared to July — coming in slightly below the 0.4% expected and 0.5% posted last month — and by 5.3% compared to August 2020. This year-over-year measure was in-line with estimates and slowed compared to July’s 5.4% pace, which had in turn represented the fastest annual growth rate since 2008.
The core measure of CPI, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, slowed more than expected to come in at 4.0% year-over-year in August after growing by 4.3% in July. Consensus economists were looking for CPI, excluding food and energy prices, to rise by 4.2%.
This inflation data suggested that the persistent price pressures rippling across the recovering economy were beginning to slowly unwind, though the CPI reports remain elevated relative to pre-pandemic levels. Consumers have still taken note of recent inflationary pressures, and one-year inflation expectations jumped to a record high of 5.2% in August, according to a New York Federal Reserve report Monday.
The elevated CPI prints have served as another data point challenging some Federal Reserve policymakers’ views that inflation will be transitory and recede as the recovery matures. The ongoing price pressures have fueled debates over the timing of the central bank’s start to asset-purchase tapering and other monetary policy adjustments to stave off overheating.
“The modest slowing in the rate of growth for inflation should temper market and policymaker concerns somewhat, despite the fact that inflation is likely to remain on the higher side for a while and risks of sticky inflation remain,” Rick Rieder, BlackRock’s chief investment officer of global fixed income, wrote in an email Tuesday morning.
“That said, core CPI has already overshot its pre-Covid trend and still many economists are forecasting the highest levels of inflation in a decade, after having seen disinflation for years,” he added. “The Federal Reserve may be declaring victory on its inflation mandate as a result of these recent price gains, but the U.S. consumer would appear to be less than thrilled about such ‘success.'”
An increasing number of economists have suggested the peak growth rates have already likely passed this year, with easy gains during the earlier stages of the reopening already made. These assessments have coincided with more cautious views on the U.S. equity market for the rest of the year, with slower economic growth likely translating to slower company earnings growth as well. Firms including Bank of America have recently slashed their price targets on the S&P 500 and suggested the index will end the year slightly lower than current levels.
Others have maintained that any pullback could present a buying opportunity.
“It’s been consistent since the pandemic has started, to buy on dips. I definitely don’t see that behavior changing any time soon,” Brian Vendig, MJP Wealth Advisors president, told Yahoo Finance Live on Monday. “I’d still say stay balanced toward equities, but be very selective in making sure that you’re picking the areas that can provide protection to margin, profitability growth, and also as a means to hedge off any unnecessary inflation.”
11:25 a.m. ET: Stocks dip into the red, Dow drops 100+ points
The three major indexes erased earlier gains before noon on Tuesday, with the S&P 500 and Dow each moving lower.
The cyclical industrials, energy and financials sectors underperformed in the S&P 500, and the small-cap Russell 2000 lagged with a drop of nearly 0.7%. Shares of companies in the “reopening” trade including cruise lines, air lines and lodging firms including Wynn Resorts sank.
10:00 a.m. ET: Here’s what drove the slower-than-expected rise in CPI inflation last month
The consumer price index’s bigger-than-expected decline last month came amid a surge in the Delta variant, which weighed on prices of leisure and travel-related consumer items.
“The core [CPI excluding food and energy prices] consensus always looked too high, but the extra downside surprise to us is the 9.1% plunge in airline fares as passenger numbers dropped in the face of the Covid Delta wave; we expected a smaller decline,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in an email Tuesday morning. “The core was also constrained by a 2.9% drop in hotel room rates, weaker than we expected and also hit by Delta. Used car prices fell 1.5%, the first decline since February and likely the start of a sustained drop, in the wake of the fall in auction prices in recent months. The rental fleets are no longer buying large numbers of cars at auction, now that the summer is over.”
He added that he expects core CPI prints to moderate in the coming months, given that used car prices will likely continue to fall and help offset an eventual rebound in airfare and hotel room rates as concerns over the coronavirus fade.
“At the margin, the recent data will dampen some of the more excitable inflation forecasts in the markets and at the Fed, but the big story for next year will be the extent to which stronger productivity growth offsets faster wage growth, thereby preventing the reopening CPI spike morphing into sustained inflation,” Shepherdson said. “We are optimistic.”
9:32 a.m. ET: Stocks open higher after moderation in CPI
Here’s where markets were trading shortly after the opening bell:
S&P 500 (^GSPC): +15.02 (+0.34%) to 4,483.75
Dow (^DJI): +82.68 (+0.24%) to 34,952.31
Nasdaq (^IXIC): +65.53 (+0.43%) to 15,172.41
Crude (CL=F): +$0.62 (+0.88%) to $71.07 a barrel
Gold (GC=F): +$4.60 (+0.26%) to $1,799.00 per ounce
10-year Treasury (^TNX): -2 bps to yield 1.304%
8:45 a.m. ET: Consumer price index comes in lower than expected in August
The Labor Department’s consumer price index (CPI) slowed in August compared to July and the same month last year, suggesting some moderating inflationary pressure in the recovering economy.
The biggest contributors to the drop were goods categories closely tied to the recovery. Indexes for airline fares, used cars and trucks and motor vehicle insurance each dropped over the course of the month, pulling back after jumping earlier on during the initial stages of the reopening process. For the used cars and trucks index, the decrease was the first in six months.
The closely watched core consumer price index, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, posted a notable deceleration in August over last year. This metric rose by just 4.0% during the month, coming in at the lowest level since May and coming in below the 4.2% expected.
7:16 a.m. ET Tuesday: Stock futures drift sideways ahead of CPI data
Here’s where markets were trading Tuesday morning ahead of the opening bell:
S&P 500 futures (ES=F): +2.75 points (+0.06%) at 4,471.75
Dow futures (YM=F): +15 points (+0.04%) to 34,885.00
Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): -2.00 points (-0.01%) to 15,434.75
Crude (CL=F): +$0.44 (+0.62%) to $70.89 a barrel
Gold (GC=F): -$5.50 (-0.31%) to $1,788.90 per ounce
10-year Treasury (^TNX): +1.7 bps to yield 1.341%
6:10 p.m. ET Monday: Stock futures rise
Here were the main moves in markets as of Monday evening:
S&P 500 futures (ES=F): +6 points (+0.13%) at 4,475.00
Dow futures (YM=F): +41 points (+0.12%) to 34,911.00
Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): +13.5 points (+0.09%) to 15,450.25
Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck