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Falling Inflation, Retail Sales Bolster Fed’s Go-Slow Approach

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Consumer Prices
  • Falling Inflation, Retail Sales Bolster Fed’s Go-Slow Approach

The economic case for a Federal Reserve interest-rate increase in June just became a little less solid.

Inflation took a surprising step back in March at the same time retail sales dropped for a second month, according to a pair of U.S. government reports on Friday. Labor Department data showed the consumer-price index fell a larger-than-forecast 0.3 percent, while a measure excluding food and energy fell by the most since 1982.

While the pullback at retailers underscores a weak first quarter for consumer spending that economists had already penciled in, the inflation data are what surprised them given recent signs that businesses had been able to regain pricing power. A further cooling of price pressures and modest household demand would raise questions about whether the economy could withstand a mid-year move by the Fed to lift borrowing costs.

“Both reports would be arguments in a case that a dove would make for why the Fed needs to be more patient,” said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities LLC. “It’s a relatively soft consumer performance in the first quarter, and you couple that with a pretty abrupt halt in the gradual uptrend in inflation. If I were a dovish policy maker, I’d say ‘what’s the harm in holding off a little bit and seeing how all this plays out.”’

That would make the June meeting more of a toss-up for a rate increase. As of Thursday, federal funds futures showed about a 57 percent chance that policy makers will raise their target rate for overnight bank lending. Financial markets in the U.S. were closed for Good Friday and the Easter holiday.

Retail sales were down 0.2 percent last month after a 0.3 percent drop in February that had previously been reported as a gain, Commerce Department data showed. Six of 13 major retail categories registered lower March receipts. At auto dealers, purchases fell 1.2 percent after a 1.5 percent slide a month earlier.

Low prices may have also played a role in restraining total sales as the retail figures aren’t adjusted to account for changes in inflation.

To be sure, two more months of economic data will be available before the Fed’s June 13-14 meeting. Spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy, has room to pick up on the heels of steady hiring, healthier household balance sheets and more optimistic consumers. Income-tax refunds, which had been delayed earlier this year, may also provide a spark in the months ahead.

“The retail sales data are not adjusted for price changes which, as we have often noted, causes considerable misinterpretation of the underlying health of consumers,” Richard Moody, chief economist at Regions Financial Corp., said in a note after the report. “Ongoing improvement in labor market conditions, rising household net worth, and notably higher consumer confidence leave us with a much more constructive view of U.S. consumers than does the Q1 retail sales data.”

The decline in the CPI was the first in 13 months and was also broad, reflecting cheaper goods such as motor vehicles and gasoline, as well as a drop in the costs of services, including mobile-phone communications. The core CPI, which excludes energy and food, fell 0.1 percent.

Services prices also declined 0.1 percent, the most since 2010. Overall housing costs rose just 0.1 percent, the smallest advance in a year. The cost of lodging away from home dropped 2.4 percent, the most since October 2013, while the prices of mobile phone service slumped a record 7 percent. Combined with a 0.7 percent slide in the cost of goods, the most in 13 months, the results underscore the broad decline.

Still, “we don’t think this is enough to cause the Fed to swerve from their stated desire to continue gradually increasing the funds rate, though it may embolden the doves’ rhetoric,” Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co., wrote in a note. “Until it gets reversed with stronger inflation data, today’s number will leave lingering doubts about the popular reflation narrative.”

CEO/Founder Investors King Ltd, a foreign exchange research analyst, contributing author on New York-based Talk Markets and Investing.com, with over a decade experience in the global financial markets.

Crude Oil

Oil Dips Below $62 in New York Though Banks Say Rally Can Extend

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Oil

Oil Dips Below $62 in New York Though Banks Say Rally Can Extend

Oil retreated from an earlier rally with investment banks and traders predicting the market can go significantly higher in the months to come.

Futures in New York pared much of an earlier increase to $63 a barrel as the dollar climbed and equities slipped. Bank of America said prices could reach $70 at some point this year, while Socar Trading SA sees global benchmark Brent hitting $80 a barrel before the end of the year as the glut of inventories built up during the Covid-19 pandemic is drained by the summer.

The loss of oil output after the big freeze in the U.S. should help the market firm as much of the world emerges from lockdowns, according to Trafigura Group. Inventory data due later Tuesday from the American Petroleum Institute and more from the Energy Department on Wednesday will shed more light on how the Texas freeze disrupted U.S. oil supply last week.

Oil has surged this year after Saudi Arabia pledged to unilaterally cut 1 million barrels a day in February and March, with Goldman Sachs Group Inc. predicting the rally will accelerate as demand outpaces global supply. Russia and Riyadh, however, will next week once again head into an OPEC+ meeting with differing opinions about adding more crude to the market.

“The freeze in the U.S. has proved supportive as production was cut,” said Hans van Cleef, senior energy economist at ABN Amro. “We still expect that Russia will push for a significant rise in production,” which could soon weigh on prices, he said.

PRICES

  • West Texas Intermediate for April fell 27 cents to $61.43 a barrel at 9:20 a.m. New York time
  • Brent for April settlement fell 8 cents to $65.16

Brent’s prompt timespread firmed in a bullish backwardation structure to the widest in more than a year. The gap rose above $1 a barrel on Tuesday before easing to 87 cents. That compares with 25 cents at the start of the month.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. and oil trader Vitol Group shot down talk of a new oil supercycle, though they said a lack of supply response will keep prices for crude prices firm in the short term.

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Crude Oil

Oil Prices Rise With Storm-hit U.S. Output Set for Slow Return

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Crude oil

Oil Prices Rise With Storm-hit U.S. Output Set for Slow Return

Oil prices rose on Monday as the slow return of U.S. crude output cut by frigid conditions served as a reminder of the tight supply situation, just as demand recovers from the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brent crude was up $1.38, or 2.2%, at $64.29 per barrel. West Texas Intermediate gained $1.38, or 2.33%, to trade at $60.62 per barrel.

Abnormally cold weather in Texas and the Plains states forced the shutdown of up to 4 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude production along with 21 billion cubic feet of natural gas output, analysts estimated.

Shale oil producers in the region could take at least two weeks to restart the more than 2 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude output affected, sources said, as frozen pipes and power supply interruptions slow their recovery.

“With three-quarters of fracking crews standing down, the likelihood of a fast resumption is low,” ANZ Research said in a note.

For the first time since November, U.S. drilling companies cut the number of oil rigs operating due to the cold and snow enveloping Texas, New Mexico and other energy-producing centres.

OPEC+ oil producers are set to meet on March 4, with sources saying the group is likely to ease curbs on supply after April given a recovery in prices, although any increase in output will likely be modest given lingering uncertainty over the pandemic.

“Saudi Arabia is eager to pursue yet higher prices in order to cover its social break-even expenses at around $80 a barrel while Russia is strongly focused on unwinding current cuts and getting back to normal production,” said SEB chief commodity analyst Bjarne Schieldrop.

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Crude Oil

Crude Oil Rose Above $65 Per Barrel as US Production Drop Due to Texas Weather

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oil

Crude Oil Rose Above $65 Per Barrel as US Production Drop Due to Texas Weather

Oil prices rose to $65.47 per barrel on Thursday as crude oil production dropped in the US due to frigid Texas weather.

The unusual weather has left millions in the dark and forced oil producers to shut down production. According to reports, at least the winter blast has claimed 24 lives.

Brent crude oil gained $2 to $65.47 on Thursday morning before pulling back to $64.62 per barrel around 11:00 am Nigerian time.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude rose 2.3 percent to settle at $61.74 per barrel.

“This has just sent us to the next level,” said Bob Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho in New York. “Crude oil WTI will probably max out somewhere pretty close to $65.65, refinery utilization rate will probably slide to somewhere around 76%,” Yawger said.

However, the report that Saudi Arabia plans to increase production in the coming months weighed on crude oil as it can be seen in the chart below.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Saudi Arabian Energy Minister, warned that it was too early to declare victory against the COVID-19 virus and that oil producers must remain “extremely cautious”.

“We are in a much better place than we were a year ago, but I must warn, once again, against complacency. The uncertainty is very high, and we have to be extremely cautious,” he told an energy industry event.

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