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@theMarket: Sticky Inflation Slows Market Advance

By Bill SchmickiBerkshires columnist
February inflation data showed no progress on inflation. That follows the same kind of readings from the previous month. While two months does not make a trend, the disappointing numbers gave investors pause.
Both the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and its cousin, The Producer Price Index (PPI), came in warmer than economists had expected. Consumer prices rose 3.2 percent in February from a year earlier but were only slightly higher than economists' expectations of 3.1 percent. The PPI rose 1.6 percent year-over-year, which was the largest gain since last September. Month-over-month, the PPI at +0.6 percent was double the average forecast.
These data points should be taken with a grain of salt since a couple of higher numbers should be expected. Few, if any, macroeconomic trends travel in an uninterrupted straight line higher or lower.  Unfortunately, these results practically guarantee that the Federal Reserve will hold off on any plans to cut interest rates.
No one was expecting the Fed to cut in March anyway. In Chairman Powell's most recent statements, he indicated March was off the table. But now, the earliest the market can expect a cut will be in June, if then. Markets are now pricing in about a 59 percent chance of an interest rate cut in June. Given that economic growth and employment trends remain strong, some argue that the Fed need not reduce interest rates at all this year.
Any hint of no cuts ahead would not be taken kindly by the markets. That is because much of the gains in financial markets, whether in bonds, equities, precious metals, commodities, crypto, etc., have been fueled by investors' expectations that the Fed is planning on reducing interest rates at least three times this year.
As such, the FOMC meeting notes will be released on the afternoon of March 20, and I suspect every word will be analyzed with a microscope. Chairman Powell's Q&A session afterward will also be subject to the same scrutiny. I don't expect that Powell will deliver a nasty downside surprise. After all, this is an election year, and while the Fed is supposed to be "non-political," I doubt they would want to upset the economic apple cart and influence one side or the other.
As readers are aware, I believe the stock market is in the ninth inning of this rally. This week, the high on the S&P 500 Index was less than 44 points away from my top-of-the-range 5,220 target. I've noticed some changes in the market behavior while we made that new high. The momentum that has been driving stocks since the beginning of the year is beginning to wane and, in some areas, even reverse. The action of late has been wild and there are some signs of short-term topping patterns.
The technology sector, for example, which has led the market all year, is beginning to struggle. Semiconductors have been choppy. Nvidia, the quintessential AI stock, is no longer going up 2-3 percent per day. It is now down about 100 points from its all-time high. Some stalwarts of the market like Apple, Google, and Tesla (to varying degrees) seem to be rolling over. Some say that where Apple goes, so goes the market. 
In this risk-on environment, the declining dollar has been supporting commodities, especially gold and silver. However, the greenback, which is the world's safest trade, has flattened out and may be starting to bounce as traders worry that lower inflation is not quite in the bag. All of this tells me to be cautious and while we could still climb higher, I would have one eye on the exit.
Readers, please be aware that due to two upcoming medical procedures, there will be no columns next week, and again none during the week of April 1.

Bill Schmick is the founding partner of Onota Partners, Inc., in the Berkshires. His forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Onota Partners Inc. (OPI). None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-413-347-2401 or email him at bill@schmicksretiredinvestor.com.

Anyone seeking individualized investment advice should contact a qualified investment adviser. None of the information presented in this article is intended to be and should not be construed as an endorsement of OPI, Inc. or a solicitation to become a client of OPI. The reader should not assume that any strategies or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold, or held by OPI. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct.



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