Modest European rises as Wall Street awaits Fed, Biden

·4-min read
Jerome Powell's comments will be closely followed for an idea about the Federal Reserve's plans for monetary policy

European stock markets closed mostly up on Wednesday while US eyes were focused on the Federal Reserve's policy update and US President Joe Biden, who is expected to unveil a huge spending plan.

European markets followed Asian indices slightly higher as investors reacted to some strong earnings updates, notably from banks, ahead of the key events in the United States later Wednesday including Biden's first speech to Congress.

But on Wall Street, the Dow Jones was off 0.3 percent two hours into trading despite a strong rise for Google parent Alphabet, which added 5.7 percent on surging ad sales before limiting gains mid-session to 3.9 percent.

"The Dow Jones missed out on the rebounding gains posted in Europe this Wednesday, the index fretting ahead of this evening’s appearances from Joe Biden and the Federal Reserve," said Connor Campbell of Spreadex, citing the waiting game on the stimulus, rates and taxes outlook.

"There’s likely going to be a lot for the Dow Jones and dollar to process overnight. Even if the Federal Reserve’s tone is unchanged – and there are murmurs that the central bank could start discussing tapering its bond-buying scheme –- Joe Biden is set to outline tax hikes for the wealthiest Americans in his first speech to Congress. And that’s something that may not go down well with investors," Campbell suggested.

Oil prices moved higher, meanwhile, a day after OPEC and its oil-producing allies, including Russia, said they would stick to an agreement for progressive production increases over three months from May.

The main focus was in the US, where Biden was Wednesday set to call for a reversal of predecessor Donald Trump's tax cuts for the wealthy to pay for a huge middle class families spending programme, senior administration officials said.

Biden will use his speech to a joint session of Congress to unveil the $1.8-trillion American Families Plan, funded by ending Trump's tax cuts and closing loopholes used by the most wealthy to escape paying their share, they added.

Wall Street had provided a tepid lead overnight despite another day of forecast-beating US earnings, which analysts said indicated the latest rally might have run out of steam.

While Alphabet stormed ahead, Microsoft was down 2.8 percent despite higher first-quarter results and Boeing plunged 3.6 percent after burning through more cash than forecast for a sixth straight quarter in the red.

Although in some countries Covid-19 vaccines are rolling out, lockdowns are easing and economies are recovering, there is a growing concern that frightening spikes in others -- particularly India and Brazil -- could torpedo the global rebound.

Long-running worries over inflation also remain as economic activity and demand rise.

"Inflationary pressures are building up," noted Fawad Razaqzada, market analyst with ThinkMarkets, citing large price rises in commodities such as copper and iron ore.

"So it will be only a matter of time before the CPI overshoots the two percent target and there is a risk that inflation could be more sticky than the Fed expects."

Fed boss Jerome Powell is expected to repeat his mantra that borrowing costs will be kept at record lows until unemployment has been tamed and inflation is consistently running hot.

But many feel the bank might not be able to stick to that if prices continue to surge.

"The economic outlook now is starkly different from when the Federal Reserve last met in March," noted CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson.

- Key figures around 1600 GMT -

New York - Dow: DOWN 0.4 percent at 33,860.76

EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.1 percent at 4,017.30

London - FTSE 100: UP 0.3 percent at 6,963.67 points (close)

Frankfurt - DAX 30: UP 0.3 percent at 15,292.18 (close)

Paris - CAC 40: UP 0.6 percent at 6,306.98 (close)

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.2 percent at 29,053.97 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: UP 0.5 percent at 29,071.34 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.4 percent at 3,457.07 (close)

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.2094 from $1.2095 at 2110 GMT

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3909 from $1.3911

Euro/pound: UP at 86.94 pence from 86.90 pence

Dollar/yen: UP at 108.81 yen from 108.68 yen

West Texas Intermediate: UP 2.4 percent at $64.46 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: UP 1.8 percent at $67.81 per barrel