A trader walks outside the New York Stock Exchange in New York City, the US. Picture: REUTERS/SHANNON STAPLETON
A trader walks outside the New York Stock Exchange in New York City, the US. Picture: REUTERS/SHANNON STAPLETON

London — World shares cosied up close to record highs and the dollar and global bond yields nudged up on Wednesday, as traders waited to see if the US Federal Reserve utters the dreaded “T” word later — tapering of its mass stimulus programme.

The broad expectation is that it will not want to unsettle markets for now, and with a packed day of corporate earnings, economic data and US President Joe Biden’s first address before a joint Congress session, there was plenty to navigate.

MSCI’s broadest index of world shares was sidestepping towards its best month of the year so far as Europe’s bourses struggled to hang on to some modest early gains and S&P 500 futures went flat.

In the forex markets, the dollar was on course for its first unbroken two-day run of gains of the month — April is currently set to be its worst month since last July. US 10-year treasury yields, whose swift rise earlier in the year caught markets off guard, touched their highest in nearly two weeks at 1.647%.

“The thing that we are going to watch most closely is if the Fed says anything along the lines of tapering of asset purchases,” said Jim Caron, a senior portfolio manager at Morgan Stanley.

“As long that doesn't get mentioned, we are all good,” he said, explaining that with the coronavirus pandemic still worsening in many parts of the world, investors would view any mention of tapering as a premature step.

Most Fed watchers expect the bank’s chair, Jerome Powell, to repeat the bank’s recent message that its low interest rates and support programmes will remain in place for a long time yet.

Biden will also address Congress and is likely to underscore his administration’s plans for mass infrastructure and stimulus spending.

These developments would normally be positive for stocks, but analysts say so much economic optimism is already priced into the equity market that it is difficult to budge stocks further from current levels.

Otherwise, Europe’s traders were waiting to hear from European Central Bank (ECB) president Christine Lagarde and a number of other top policymakers. Economic data releases include Germany’s GfK consumer confidence reading for May and France’s consumer confidence reading for April.

Apple eyed

US earnings later include tech and internet giants Apple, Facebook and Qualcomm, as well as Boeing, GlaxoSmithKline and Ford. The preliminary March reading for US wholesale inventories is also due.

There had been mixed bag of earnings from Tesla, 3M , Microsoft, and Google parent Alphabet on Tuesday.

In the forex markets, the dollar index rose 0.2% at 91.047 , bouncing from Monday’s low of 90.679, its weakest level since March 3.

The greenback edged up slightly against the yen and the British pound, but trading is expected to be subdued until Powell speaks after the Fed meeting.

As well as the rise in treasury yields helping the dollar higher, break-even rates on 10-year treasury inflation-protected securities, a measure of expected annual inflation for the coming decade, rose to 2.41%, the highest since 2013.

Elsewhere, the Australian dollar was knocked lower after disappointing data on consumer prices and in the cryptocurrency market there was excitement as the European Investment Bank said it would sell a two-year digital bond worth €100m on the ethereum blockchain network.

Rival cryptocurrency bitcoin edged lower to $55,618.

In commodities, Brent crude futures fell a touch to $66.40 a barrel, while US West Texas Intermediate crude lost 0.03% to $62.92 a barrel due to worries about energy demand.

Benchmark copper edged back from a decade high of $9,965 a tonne hit on Tuesday due to some concerns about a possible softening of demand in China, the world's top consumer of the metal.

Reuters

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