ASX set for flat start, Wall Street mixed to kick off monster week

By Stan Choe

US stocks are drifting ahead of a week when Wall Street’s most influential stocks may show whether the huge expectations built up for them are justified.

The S&P 500 rose 0.1 per cent in mid-afternoon trading. The Dow Jones was down less than 0.1 per cent, and the Nasdaq composite was 0.3 per cent higher. The Australian sharemarket is set for a flat open. The ASX added 0.3 per cent on Monday.

It’s a big week on Wall Street.
It’s a big week on Wall Street. Credit: Bloomberg

Big Tech stocks are the main reason the S&P 500 has soared more than 35 per cent to a record since two autumns ago. A small handful of seven has been responsible for the majority of the index’s returns over that time, propelled by a furore around artificial-intelligence technology and expectations for continued dominance.

Five members of that group, which have been nicknamed “the Magnificent Seven,” will report their latest quarterly profits this upcoming week: Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, Meta Platforms and Microsoft.

Because they’re so much more massive in size than almost every other stock, their movements pack much more weight on the S&P 500 and other indexes. They’ll need to meet analysts’ expectations for growth to justify their huge recent moves.

And that’s not all that’s coming this week.

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve will make its latest decision on what to do with interest rates. Traders expect it to make no move, but the hope is that it may cut interest rates at its next meeting in March. That would mark the first move lower since the Fed began dramatically raising interest rates two years ago to get high inflation under control.

A wave of encouraging data has Wall Street believing its dream scenario can come true: The Fed will successfully conquer inflation and soon deliver the cuts to rates that investors crave, while the economy skirts through without falling into a recession that seemed inevitable last year.

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On Friday, an economic report could bolster or weaken beliefs in that dream. The government will release the latest monthly update on the job market, and economists expect it to show continued growth in hiring, but at a cooler pace. That’s exactly what the Fed would want to see because too much growth could mean upward pressure on inflation.

“This week could be key,” said Chris Larkin, managing director, trading and investing at E-Trade from Morgan Stanley. “If the market is going to sustain its latest breakout, it may need to avoid earnings disappointments from this week’s Big Tech lineup, get encouraging news from the Fed on interest rates, and see jobs numbers that are solid, but not too hot.”

This profit reporting season is expected to be lacklustre, with analysts forecasting a fourth drop in earnings per share for S&P 500 companies in the last five quarters. But it would be even worse without the Magnificent Seven.

Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms, is expected to be the single biggest contributor to growth for the overall S&P 500, according to FactSet. Nvidia is close behind, followed by Microsoft, Apple, Alphabet and Amazon.

Companies so far this reporting season have not been getting as big a boost to their stock price as usual after topping analysts’ forecasts.

Franklin Resources, an investment manager, fell 2.2 per cent even though it reported stronger profit and revenue for the latest quarter than analysts expected.

SoFi Technologies did better, and its stock jumped 16.1 per cent after the financial services company reported stronger results for the last three months of 2023 than analysts expected. Its forecast for profit this upcoming year also topped analysts’ estimates.

On the losing side of Wall Street, iRobot fell 6.9 per cent after agreeing to call off its purchase by Amazon following scrutiny from antitrust regulators.

Stocks of oil-and-gas companies were slumping after the price of crude swung amid worries about violence in the Middle East.

President Joe Biden said Sunday that the US “shall respond” following a drone strike in Jordan that killed three American troops and injured 25 more. Biden blamed Iran-backed militias for the first US fatalities after months of strikes by such groups against American forces across the Middle East since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

A barrel of Brent crude, the international standard, rose above $US83 in the morning before falling back to $US82.16, down 1 per cent. A barrel of benchmark US crude dropped 1.1 per cent to $US77.11.

Monday kicked off with a Hong Kong court’s decision to order the liquidation of China Evergrande, the world’s most indebted property developer. Chinese markets were mixed following the ruling, with stocks rising in Hong Kong and falling in Shanghai.

Chinese authorities also made moves to make it more difficult for some investors to “short” Chinese stocks, or bet that their prices will fall. China’s stock markets have been among the world’s worst so far this year amid worries about not only its trouble property industry but also its weak economic recovery.

AP

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Source: Thanks smh.com