Stocks climb, yields fall as data supports rate cut bets

February 29, 2024 9:17 PM EST

FILE PHOTO: A passerby is reflected on an electronic screen displaying a graph showing recent Japan's Nikkei share average movements and stock prices as the share average hits a record high in Tokyo, Japan February 26, 2024. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

By Sinéad Carew and Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK (Reuters) -A global equity index scaled a record high while Treasury yields fell sharply on Friday after weak U.S. economic data and comments from Federal Reserve officials bolstered expectations for interest rate cuts later this year.

The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said its manufacturing PMI fell to 47.8 last month from 49.1 in January, the 16th straight month that the PMI remained below 50. This indicates contraction in manufacturing.

The University of Michigan surveys of consumers showed all three measures for sentiment, current conditions and consumer expectations falling more than expected.

Also on Friday, Fed Governor Chris Waller kindled hopes for lower interest rates, saying decisions about the ultimate size of the Fed balance sheet have no bearing in its inflation fight rate policy.

On Thursday, the U.S. personal consumption expenditures (PCE) report was in line with expectations and showed annual inflation growth the smallest in three years.

"When you take all of it together, you're seeing the balance tilting a little bit more toward the likelihood of there being more rate cuts, which has supported equities," said Sinead Colton Grant, chief investment officer at BNY Mellon Wealth Management.

She also said equities drew support from a stronger-than-expected earnings season and enthusiasm about artificial intelligence.

Investors appeared to shrug off a note of caution from Richmond Federal Reserve President Thomas Barkin, who said U.S. price pressures still exist and it is too soon to predict when the Fed will cut rates.

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 closed at a record high for the second day in a row, with a strong boost from the technology sector and falling Treasury yields adding to bullishness.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 90.99 points, or 0.23%, to 39,087.38, the S&P 500 gained 40.81 points, or 0.80%, to 5,137.08 and the Nasdaq Composite gained 183.02 points, or 1.14%, to 16,274.94.

MSCI's gauge of stocks across the globe rose 5.81 points, or 0.76%, to 767.09 and hit a record high.

The STOXX 600 index closed up 0.6% after Eurostat figures published showed inflation across the 20-nation euro zone eased to 2.6% in February from 2.8% a month earlier.

Global factory surveys showed manufacturing output had continued to fall in both Europe and Asia.

And in Asia, Japan's Nikkei index jumped 1.9% to hit a fresh all-time high, extending a surge of 7.9% the previous month when it breached levels last seen in 1989.

In U.S. Treasuries, yields fell sharply including two-year yields' biggest daily decline since the end of January after the manufacturing data and Waller's suggestion of the need for more shorter-dated Treasuries.

The 2-year note yield, which typically moves in step with interest rate expectations, fell 11.1 basis points to 4.5354%, from 4.646% late on Thursday.

The yield on benchmark U.S. 10-year notes fell 6.6 basis points to 4.186%, from 4.252% while the 30-year bond yield fell 4.7 basis points to 4.3285% from 4.375% late on Thursday.

In currencies, the dollar fell against the euro on weaker-than-expected U.S. economic data but gained against the Japanese yen after Bank of Japan governor Kazuo Ueda said it was too soon to declare victory on inflation.

The dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of major currencies, fell 0.2% at 103.91, with the euro up 0.28% at $1.0833.

Against the Japanese yen, the dollar strengthened 0.09% to 150.12 yen.

In cryptocurrencies, bitcoin rose 2.36% to $62,898.00 after hitting a more than two-year high of $63,933 on Wednesday.

In commodities, oil prices settled higher and posted weekly gains as traders awaited an OPEC+ decision on supply agreements for the second quarter while they weighed U.S., European and Chinese economic data.

U.S. crude settled up 2.2% at $79.97 a barrel and Brent finished at $83.55 per barrel, up 2% on the day.

In metals, gold started the month on a positive note, with prices rising to a two-month high the muted economic data.

Spot gold added 1.97% to $2,083.41 an ounce.

(Reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch and Sinead Carew in New York, Naomi Rovnick in London and Stella Qiu in Sydney; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Josie Kao, Will Dunham and David Gregorio)

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