Nasdaq, S&P 500 gain, Treasury yields waver as CPI cements Fed pause

By Stephen Culp

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. stocks advanced and U.S. Treasuries oscillated within a tight range on Wednesday after data showed underlying inflation remained on its slow, downward trajectory, boosting expectations that the Federal Reserve will let interest rates stand, for now.

The S&P 500 gained modestly and interest-rate sensitive mega caps, led by Microsoft Corp, gave the tech-heavy Nasdaq the edge.

The blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average was essentially unchanged.

U.S. consumer price (CPI) data showed prices heated up in August due to rising energy prices, but the “core” measure, which excludes volatile food and energy items, remained on its meandering path down to the Federal Reserve’s average 2% annual inflation target.

“Since markets were weak the last few days, maybe people were fearing more core inflation than we saw,” said Peter Tuz, president of Chase Investment Counsel in Charlottesville, Virginia. “(The report) confirms the idea of the Fed waiting to see what further data show before a possibly hiking rates in November.”

“CPI was slightly positive on a core basis, but surging gasoline prices affect retail sales,” Tuz added. “The extra $20 you spend filling your tank is $20 less you spend on other things.”

Financial markets have priced in a 97% likelihood of the Federal Reserve standing pat at next week’s monetary policy meeting, leaving the key Fed funds target rate at 5.25%-5.50%, according to CME’s FedWatch tool.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 10.89 points, or 0.03%, to 34,635.1, the S&P 500 gained 9.8 points, or 0.22%, to 4,471.7 and the Nasdaq Composite added 59.92 points, or 0.44%, to 13,833.53.

European shares ended lower as investors looked beyond the CPI report and a drop in euro zone industrial production to focus their attention on this week’s European Central Bank policy meeting.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index lost 0.32% and MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe gained 0.10%.

Emerging market stocks lost 0.03%. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan closed 0.15% lower, while Japan’s Nikkei lost 0.21%.

U.S. Treasury yields were range-bound in the wake of the CPI report, which suggested the Fed will keep interest rates steady at its upcoming meeting.

Benchmark 10-year notes last rose 5/32 in price to yield 4.2445%, from 4.264% late on Tuesday.

The 30-year bond last rose 8/32 in price to yield 4.3309%, from 4.346% late on Tuesday.

The greenback steadied against a basket of world currencies following the inflation data, which did little to move the needle regarding the Fed’s expected rate hike pause.

The dollar index was flat, with the euro down 0.16% to $1.0735.

The Japanese yen weakened 0.22% versus the greenback at 147.40 per dollar, while Sterling was last trading at $1.2491, up 0.06% on the day.

Oil prices dipped as a surprise U.S. inventory build helped market participants look past expectations of tight supply.

U.S. crude slipped 0.36% to settle at $88.52 per barrel, while Brent settled at $91.88 per barrel, down 0.2% on the day.

Gold prices edged lower, hovering near two-week lows after the CPI report helped give the dollar a slight boost.

Spot gold dropped 0.2% to $1,909.19 an ounce.

(Reporting by Stephen Culp; Additional reporting by Amanda Cooper in London; Editing by Alison Williams and Sharon Singleton)