The Odds for a Summertime Fed Rate Cut Are Dwindling

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By aroundworld.news

U.S. inflation jitters are being felt around the world this morning, after the latest Consumer Price Index report showed inflation ticked up for a third straight month.

The dollar spiked overnight and traders slashed their bets on when — or whether — the Fed would cut interest rates this year. Such uncertainty could last for months and complicate President Biden’s bid for a second term.

Traders this morning were pricing in less than two rate cuts for 2024 — down from more than six at the start of the year — possibly starting in July. But even that’s looking tenuous after headline C.P.I. hit 3.5 percent in March. The growing view on Wall Street is that inflation will need to get closer to the Fed’s 2 percent target before the central bank makes a move.

Some are going even further: Larry Summers, the former Treasury secretary and a critic of the Fed’s handling of inflation, told Bloomberg that a rate increase can’t be ruled out.

The next inflation data comes out today at 8:30 a.m. Eastern, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases the Producer Price Index, a key indicator for businesses.

Investors will also be tuning into today’s European Central Bank news conference. The big question: Will the E.C.B. cut before the Fed or will the U.S. inflation woes muzzle those calls?

Politics could muddle the Fed’s timing. The Fed is an independent body, but perceptions that it may lean either right or left tend to surface in election years. (Donald Trump has already voiced his concern about possible Fed cuts this year).

“Rate reductions later this year may be complicated by policymakers seeking to avoid the appearance of taking positions on the presidential election campaign, which revs into high gear this summer,” José Torres, an economist at Interactive Brokers, wrote in a client note yesterday. Deutsche Bank economists agree, saying the window for rate cuts could close this year if the inflation data doesn’t cool by July.

The fallout from the C.P.I. could linger. Higher-for-longer fears are rattling the bond market. Investors dumped U.S. sovereign debt yesterday, pushing the yield on the 10-year note to a five-month high. That could spell bad news for households as the rates on mortgages and other types of loans tend to edge higher as yields on 10-year Treasuries climb.

Biden’s poll ratings have sagged, as voters zero in on the higher cost of living even though the U.S. economy has grown faster than that of many comparable countries. Economists are increasingly wondering if the U.S. is heading for a “no landing” scenario of persistently high inflation that ties the Fed’s hands on rates. Thomas Barkin, the Richmond Fed president, summed up the tough spot policymakers were in. “We need to be humble,” he said yesterday.

The next thing to watch: corporate profits. Stocks rallied last quarter, thanks in part to stronger than expected corporate profits and hopes for imminent rate cuts. Cuts are in limbo, but a new earnings season kicks off with Wall Street heavyweights JPMorgan Chase, BlackRock and Wells Fargo reporting results tomorrow.

The TikTok divestiture deadline could be extended. Maria Cantwell, the Washington State Democrat and Senate commerce committee chair, said she was open to giving ByteDance more time to sell the video platform. A House bill that overwhelmingly passed in March would force TikTok to split from the Chinese company within six months, or be banned from American app stores.

Elon Musk to visit India, amid reports he could build a new Tesla factory. Musk will meet with Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, during the trip this month and will announce plans to build a new factory to make electric vehicles, Reuters reports. With Tesla sales growth slowing, Musk is looking to expand into new markets.

President Biden warns of an Iranian attack on Israeli assets. Biden said Iran was threatening a “significant attack” in response to an Israeli missile strike last week on Iran’s embassy in Damascus that killed top military commanders. The president has reiterated his support for Israel even as he has increased his criticism of its tactics in the war against Hamas.

Amazon has been on a tear in recent months. Its stock is up more than 80 percent in the past year and the tech giant is edging toward a market capitalization of $2 trillion on the back of its bets on artificial intelligence.

Andy Jassy’s annual letter to Amazon shareholders has just been published and the C.E.O. is doubling down on A.I.

Here’s what stood out to DealBook:

Amazon sees generative A.I. powering future breakthroughs. Jassy said the tech being used to power chatbots like ChatGPT will be key to how the company develops and builds new businesses. After a late start in A.I., Amazon has stepped up its spending. It backed the A.I. start-up Anthropic to the tune of $4 billion — its biggest venture capital investment — and is building its own models that it hopes will be an emerging business line.

The company plans to do more in building A.I. chips. Nvidia dominates the sector. But companies are looking for more options. Amazon has already built two chips that are being used by Anthropic, Airbnb, Snap and others.

Jassy also sees strong potential for Amazon SageMaker, a service that helps companies organize their data so that it’s A.I.-ready.

Amazon’s dominant cloud business gives it an edge. Jassy says Amazon Web Services customers are increasingly turning to the computing platform to build and scale their A.I. applications.

And the company is building A.I. apps across all of its businesses while getting development partners to build on top of its tech.

Prime Video could be a profit machine. Amazon’s streaming platform has grown into a behemoth with more than 200 million monthly viewers and recently introduced advertising. Jassy is confident about the unit’s prospects, pointing to exclusive content like Thursday Night Football and high customer engagement. Could it be spun out?

Space could be the next frontier. Jassy said the company achieved a big milestone for Project Kuiper, its satellite internet business, when it launched two prototypes into space to provide broadband access in remote areas. The low-earth satellite business is dominated by Elon Musk’s Starlink, but Amazon sees room for growth. Its first production satellites are set for launch later this year.


One more Paramount shareholder is going public with concerns about the media group’s talks to merge with the film studio Skydance, DealBook’s Lauren Hirsch is first to report. Ariel Investments, which had a 1.8 percent stake in Paramount at the end of last year, is the biggest shareholder to join the growing list of investors that are openly pushing for a rethink.

Here’s a recap of the Paramount-Skydance negotiations. Shari Redstone’s holding company, National Amusements, controls Paramount via a supervoting class of stock. Skydance, run by tech scion David Ellison, has provisionally agreed to buy National Amusements. Paramount would then merge with Skydance in a deal that would value the studio at about $5 billion and would allow Redstone to cash out at a premium while other shareholders get diluted shares in a new company.

Ariel wants Paramount to consider a higher offer from Apollo Global Management. Ariel, an asset manager founded by the value investor John Rogers, says Paramount should look at a $26 billion proposal from Apollo, a private equity giant, despite concerns on financing. “Any merger talks that forego competitive bidding in favor of an exclusive discussion with a single buyer, particularly where the reported control premium differentiates the financial position of a single shareholder over all other shareholders,” an Ariel spokeswoman said, “is averse to the fair market value of a company.”

Ariel also is worried about potential board changes at Paramount. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that four directors will leave. They are Dawn Ostroff, a former Spotify executive; Nicole Seligman, a former general counsel at Sony; the investment banker Frederick Terrell; and Rob Klieger, Redstone’s lawyer. Seligman, Ostroff and Terrell are also members of a special committee of independent directors tasked with finding the best deal for the company.

The changes “may compromise the board’s ability to act on behalf of all shareholders,” the Ariel spokeswoman said.

Shares in Paramount closed 4 percent lower yesterday.


Some of the biggest figures in American and Japanese business joined President Biden and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the White House last night for a state dinner to celebrate the deepening of ties between the two trading allies.

The U.S. executives included JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, Apple’s Tim Cook, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, BlackRock’s Larry Fink, and Jon Gray of Blackstone. They adeptly ducked questions about whether their appearance signaled their support for Biden’s re-election. But the White House probably only invited C.E.O.s seen as supportive, and it was hard to avoid the mixing of business, politics and diplomacy.

One other interesting name on the guest list: David McCall, president of United Steelworkers. The union has come out against Nippon Steel’s $14 billion bid for U.S. Steel. Biden has signaled he’s against it, too, and the union has endorsed him.

Deals

  • The Goldman Sachs treasurer Philip Berlinsky is reportedly moving to Millennium Management as the latest high-level Goldman executive to be poached by the hedge fund. (FT)

  • OpenAI’s Sam Altman met this week with investors and government officials in the United Arab Emirates as he pushed for the creation of a global coalition focused on chips, energy and data centers. (Bloomberg)

Policy

  • Allen Weisselberg, Donald Trump’s longtime finance chief, was sentenced to five months in jail for perjury in a fraud investigation related to the former president. (NYT)

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