Stock futures edge up as investors await inflation data

Stock futures opened higher Thursday evening as investors awaited a key inflation report ahead of the Federal Reserve’s final policy-setting meeting of the year next week. 

Contracts on the S&P 500 gained. Earlier, the blue-chip index closed out the regular session in the red after three consecutive days of gains, with concerns over Omicron beginning to ease as new developments suggested the variant may not cause as severe of infections as previously feared. The Nasdaq dropped 1.7% during the regular trading day, but was still on track for a weekly return of nearly 2.9% after posting solid gains earlier this week. 

Investors on Friday are set to receive the Labor Department’s latest Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is expected to show another multi-decade high rate of inflation for November. Consensus economists are looking for the CPI to climb by 6.8% in November over last year, or the fastest annual rate since the 1980s. And even excluding more volatile food and energy prices, the core CPI likely rose by 4.9% over last year, or the fastest rate in about three decades.  

“We think that inflation is still going to be pretty broad when we see tomorrow’s report,” Luke Tilley, Wilmington Trust chief economist, told Yahoo Finance Live on Thursday. “But what we’re looking for is a deceleration as we go forward over the course of 2022.”

“That doesn’t mean prices are going to go down, it’s just a question of, are they going to go up as much in 2022 as in 2021 without the kind of fiscal stimulus we’ve had this year? And we don’t think that that’s going to happen, because it won’t be as much of a push on the demand side,” he added. “And then on the supply side, we’re looking for the labor market to improve, more people returning to work, and of course the delivery and the ports to improve.”  

Other recent data have further underscored the present tightness on the supply side of the economy. Weekly U.S. jobless claims plunged more than expected to reach the lowest level since 1969 last week, coming in even below pre-pandemic levels. And U.S. job openings came in at more than 11 million for only the second time on record in October.  

“Wage increases are probably on the agenda for next year. That’s part of the broadening of inflationary pressures that we’ve already started to see come through in some of that CPI data,” Seema Shah, Principal Global Investors chief strategist, told Yahoo Finance Live on Thursday. “But I have to say that we’re not so worried because we’re starting to see other parts of the inflation picture actually starting to fade. So at the end of next year, 12 months from now, we’re not expecting the kind of 6-7% CPI numbers that we may see tomorrow. We’re thinking more the 3% level for 12 months time.” 

Given the backdrop of elevated inflation, Federal Reserve officials have adopted more hawkish rhetoric about the monetary policy path forward. Some pundits suggested more rotation could occur in U.S. equity markets beneath the surface as investors price in expectations for tighter Fed policy to rein in inflation. The Federal Open Market Committee is slated to hold its final two-day monetary policy-setting meeting of the year next week. 

“If we go back to the bulk of the second half of 2020 and for much of this year, the pendulum of risk-on, risk-off in the market was really simply occurring just below the surface of the index, of the S&P 500 —meaning that when there was a risk-on rally, it was value and it was cyclicals,” Craig Fehr, principal and leader of investment strategy for Edward Jones, told Yahoo Finance Live on Thursday. “And when it was risk-off and the risk appetite was declining, it was tech that was the safe haven.”

“What we’re seeing is a transition now, particularly as the Fed is signaling a withdrawal of some of this excess liquidity and stimulus that’s been in place for quite some time,” he added. “The market isn’t going to run directly into high-valuation, perhaps tech names broadly like it has over the past year-and-a-half. I think we’re going to see more discernment.” 

6:25 p.m. ET Thursday: Stock futures open higher 

Here were the main moves in markets in late trading on Thursday:

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): +6.5 points (+0.14%), to 4,673.50

  • Dow futures (YM=F): +34 points (+0.1%), to 35,787.00

  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): +25.25 points (+0.16%) to 16,174.00

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – DECEMBER 08: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on December 08, 2021 in New York City. Following news from the pharmaceutical company Pfizer on the effectiveness of its vaccine against the Omicron COVID-19 variant, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rallied nearly 100 points in morning trading on Wednesday. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter