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US stock market: Shares rally to records ahead of jobs report. What’s happening?

Global stock indexes rallied to record highs on Thursday, while government bond yields fell after the European Central Bank held interest rates steady and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell reiterated that easing was likely in 2024 if inflation behaved.

US stock market: The Wall Street entrance to the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) is seen in New York City, US.(Reuters)
US stock market: The Wall Street entrance to the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) is seen in New York City, US.(Reuters)

The yield on benchmark 10-year US Treasury notes hit a near one-month low then steadied as investors adjusted positions before Friday’s release of the February U.S. payrolls report.

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That is a highly anticipated monthly U.S. economic release because of its centrality to the Fed’s high employment and low inflation mandates.

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While the ECB left its policy rate at a record high, it took a first, small step towards lowering it, saying inflation was easing faster than it anticipated only a few months ago.

“We are making good progress towards our inflation target and we are more confident as a result – but we are not sufficiently confident,” ECB President Christine Lagarde told a press conference.

That sent the pan-European STOXX 600 to a record high. It closed up 0.99%, while Europe’s broad FTSEurofirst 300 index rose 20.37 points, or 1.03%

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In the U.S., Powell on Wednesday testified before the House Financial Services Committee, saying rate reductions would “likely be appropriate” this year “if the economy evolves broadly as expected” and once officials gained more confidence in inflation’s steady decline. He repeated those comments before the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday.

“The data comes out, the market reacts. Then it’s always filtered through ‘How does the Fed see this?’ Obviously, there is a major focus on the rate cut time table so that tomorrow’s release will be important,” said Quincy Krosby chief global strategist LPL Financial, referring to the payrolls report.

Krosby said the market was not hoping for a blowout number. Rather it was focused on whether wages had leveled off while underpinning a “still resilient labor market.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 130.30 points, or 0.34%, to 38,791.35. The S&P 500 gained 52.60 points, or 1.03%, to 5,157.36, a record high close.

The Nasdaq Composite hit an intraday record high and narrowly missed a closing record to end up 241.83 points, or 1.51%, at 16,273.38.

MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe went up 7.55 points, or 0.99%, closing at an all-time high.

“It’s never been a bad thing to have synchronized global central bank policy. By that I mean the ECB is on a similar trajectory as the Federal Reserve is,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at B Riley Wealth in New York.

Alignment of monetary policies should stabilize currencies, he said.

The dollar posted its biggest fall since late December against the yen, which rose on data showing Japanese workers’ nominal pay surged in January, after the country’s major employment union won big pay hikes in 2024 wage talks.

Bank of Japan board member Junko Nakagawa signaled her conviction that conditions for phasing out negative rates were now falling into place.

Against the Japanese yen, the dollar fell 0.88% to 148.05. The dollar index fell 0.52% to 102.80, with the euro up 0.47% at $1.0948.

“The bond market’s up. Commodities are up. Investors are buying everything except the dollar. There’s more optimism about the economy. There’s more optimism about earnings and there’s more optimism about policy,” said John Augustine, chief investment officer at Huntington Private Bank, also citing the MSCI world share index’s record high.

The resurgent yen pulled Japanese stock indexes down from near records. Japan’s Nikkei fell 492.07 points, or 1.23%, to 39,598.71.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan ended the day 0.53% higher.

The 10-year Treasury note yield continued a week-long slide to its lowest in about a month before steadying a bit. It was last off 1.7 basis points from late Wednesday at 4.087%.

That followed a similar drop in German Bund yields.

In cryptocurrencies, bitcoin gained 1.17% at $67,244.00, while Ethereum rose 1.21% at $3895.9.

Gold prices hit an all-time high on Thursday as Powell’s comments fostered expectations for lower U.S. interest rates this year, which would make zero-yield gold more attractive to investors.

Spot gold went up 0.46% to $2,158.27 an ounce. U.S. gold futures gained 0.4% to $2,158.90 an ounce.

Oil prices ended little changed. U.S. crude slipped 20 cents per barrel to close at $78.93 and Brent settled flat $82.96 per barrel.

(Reporting by Marc Jones and Alden Bentley; Editing by Richard Chang, Peter Graff and Jamie Freed)