Shares tread water as investors await Powell testimony

Wall Street opened to mixed results

  

LONDON/WASHINGTON- World shares struggled to extend a bounce off four-week lows on Tuesday, oil prices flirted with their highest levels over two years, while indecisive bond markets flip-flopped on inflation and interest rate moves.

Wall Street opened to mixed results after posting strong gains Monday, regaining ground lost the week prior. The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 42.43 points, or 0.13% in early trading, while the S&P 500 .SPX lost 0.02% and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 0.04%.

The MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 45 nations, was up by 0.14%.

All eyes are on Fed chief Jerome Powell who appears before the U.S. Congress from 1800 GMT, as investors eyeing the second half of the year juggle his vow to keep up monetary stimulus while the job market recovers with data showing inflation on the rise and Fed officials projecting rate hikes sooner than once thought.

"As the cycle evolves, investors will increasingly divert their attention toward the potential party spoilers. A chief concern is inflation," wrote Tony DeSpirito, portfolio manager of Blackrock's Equity Dividend Fund in a client note.

"We expect fears of inflation will be enough to stoke volatility in stocks, even amid Fed assurances of continued accommodation."

Oil appeared to be a bright spot for bullish investors, as Brent cleared $75 a barrel for the first time since April 2019 on a strong demand outlook. Oil gave back some of those gains as U.S. markets opened, with Brent crude  $0.18, or 0.24%, to $74.70 a barrel, while U.S. crude dropped $0.19, or 0.26%. Both benchmarks are up nearly 50% this year and have now risen for the past four weeks. 

DOLLAR SMILES

In currency markets, the dollar was edging higher again after gaining sharply last week in the wake of the Fed's policy surprise. The dollar index =USD was up 0.12% to 92.021 after giving up about 0.5% on Monday.

"The whole world was mega short the U.S. dollar, and that's in good part has probably been cleaned out already, and now we take a wee breath before the next move up," said Westpac currency analyst Imre Speizer.

Bitcoin BTC=BTSP continued its slide, dropping below $30,000 for the first time since January, having nearly halved in value over the last three months. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies had come in for heavy selling on Monday, hurt by a tightening crackdown on trading and mining in China.

Back in the bond markets, benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury notes were yielding 1.5% again, having sunk to around 1.36% at one point on Monday.

Adding to the debate on inflation and rates, European Central Bank sources told Reuters that its policymakers remained some way apart on a new inflation strategy - the definition of price stability and how to achieve it - after a meeting at the weekend. 

Spot gold fell 0.45% to $1,775.09 an ounce and copper steadied at $9,192 a tonne having dropped nearly 15% over the last 6 weeks.

(Reporting by Marc Jones in London and Pete Schroeder in Washington; Editing by Alison Williams, Angus MacSwan, William Maclean) ((marc.jones@thomsonreuters.com; +44 (0)20 7513 4042; Reuters Messaging: marc.jones.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net Twitter @marcjonesrtrs))


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