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Saturday January 28th, 2023 7:08PM

US futures wobble as rail strike is averted

By The Associated Press
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NEW YORK (AP) — Futures on Wall Street shifted between small gains and losses as investors turned their attention to an upcoming retail sales report after the White House announced early Thursday morning that a tentative railway labor agreement has been reached, averting a strike that could have been devastating to the economy.

Futures for the Dow Jones industrials inched up less than 0.1% and futures for the S&P 500 were down less than 0.1%. Global markets were mixed and oil prices fell less than 1%.

Railroads and union representatives had been in negotiations for 20 hours at the Labor Department on Wednesday to hammer out a deal, as there was a risk of a strike starting on Friday that could have shut down rail lines across the country.

The Association of American Railroads trade group estimated that a strike would cost the economy more than $2 billion a day.

President Joe Biden announced the deal just after 5 a.m., calling it an “important win for our economy and the American people.”

The stocks of major railroads involved in the talks — which included BNSF, Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, CSX, Kansas City Southern and the U.S. operations of Canadian National — rose between 2% and 4% on news of the tentative agreement before U.S. markets opened.

Wall Street now waits for another update on inflation’s latest impact on spending when the government releases its retail sales report for August on Thursday.

A report on inflation at the wholesale level released Wednesday showed that prices are still rising rapidly, with pressures building underneath the surface, even if overall inflation slowed. It echoed a report on inflation at the consumer level Tuesday, which raised expectations for interest-rate hikes and triggered a rout for markets.

Investors worry rate hikes by the Federal Reserve to cool surging prices could go too far in slowing the U.S. economy and send it into a recession. The Fed is trying to avoid that outcome, but the latest inflation reports suggest that is becoming a more difficult task.

But markets appeared to have settled after Tuesday’s sell-off.

Traders now see a 1-in-4 chance the Fed may hike its benchmark rate by a full percentage point next week, quadruple the usual move, according to the CME Group.

The central bank has already raised its benchmark interest rate four times this year, with the last two increases by three-quarters of a percentage point.

The aggressive action on interest rates is designed to try to cool the hottest inflation in four decades. Tuesday’s report on high prices jolted markets with signs that inflation is entering a more stubborn phase that could require an already resolute Fed to do more.

The broader U.S. economy has been slowing, but consumers have remained resilient and the job market remains strong. The Labor Department will issue its weekly unemployment applications report Thursday.

In Europe, Germany's DAX added 0.1%, while the CAC 40 in Paris slipped 0.3% and Britain's FTSE 100 climbed 0.4%.

In Asia, Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 index gained 0.2% to 27,875.91. Japan reported a record trade deficit for the month of August, driven by high costs for imports of energy and other commodities and a weak yen.

But analysts said they expect a rebalancing in coming months.

“Motor vehicle production should continue to normalize as supply chain disruptions ease, while commodity price growth has eased even further,” Darren Tay of Capital Economics said in a commentary.

The Shanghai Composite index lost 1.2% to 3,199.92, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index rose 0.4% to 18,930.38.

China’s central bank left its benchmark lending rate unchanged. While other major economies are raising rates to cool inflation, the world's second-largest economy has been slowing and price increases have been moderate.

The Kospi in Seoul shed 0.4% to 2,401.83, while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 added 0.2% to 6,842.90.

In other trading Thursday, U.S. benchmark crude oil lost 44 cents to $88.04 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It jumped $1.17 on Wednesday to $88.48 per barrel.

Brent crude, the pricing basis for international trading, fell 46 cents to $93.64 per barrel.

The dollar rose to 143.32 Japanese yen from 143.16 yen late Wednesday. The euro was trading at 99.87 cents, up from 99.77 cents.

On Wednesday, the S&P 500 added 0.3%, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average inched 0.1% higher. The Nasdaq gained 0.7% and the Russell 2000 picked up 0.4%.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Business, AP Business - Economy, AP Business - Financial Markets, AP Business - Industries, AP Business - Financial Services, AP Business - Utilities
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