‘Blowout’ US retail sales shake bond and currency markets

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An “explosive” March retail sales report sparked a selloff in U.S. government debt and rattled global currency markets on Monday, the latest sign that the world’s largest economy may be too hot to warrant a rate cut of interest.

U.S. retail sales were much stronger than expected in March as consumers continued to spend despite uncertainty over future interest rate developments.

U.S. Census Bureau data released Monday showed that retail sales, which include spending on food and gasoline, rose 0.7 percent last month. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a rise of 0.3 percent.

The figure for February was revised upwards from a 0.6 percent rise to 0.9 percent, indicating the resilience of consumer spending at the start of the year and providing further evidence of a reacceleration of economic growth.

“That retail sales number was profoundly strong. . . I had to revise my GDP expectations upwards because of retail sales,” said Tom Simons, US economist at Jefferies. It now expects first-quarter gross domestic product growth to reach 3.1 percent, up from a previous estimate of around 2.2 percent, close to the Wall Street consensus.

The Atlanta Fed’s GDP nowcast, a rolling forecast that incorporates newly released data, was updated Monday following the retail sales report. The estimate for the first quarter is now 2.8 percent, up from 2.4 percent.

Expectations of higher growth were accompanied by expectations that inflation would also remain high. Market measures of inflation expectations rose recently after three straight months of stronger-than-expected data and jumped again after the Census Bureau’s release.

“You can’t stop the American consumer when they are fully employed and wage growth remains near multi-decade highs,” said Charlie McElligott, managing director of multi-asset strategy at Nomura.

Aditya Bhave, an economist at Bank of America, wrote in a note to clients that March’s “explosive” retail sales numbers were “unequivocally strong.”

“Some of March’s gains seem idiosyncratic, but the overall message is one of consumer resilience,” he said.

U.S. Treasury prices fell immediately after the data was released, pushing yields higher.

Yields on benchmark 10-year bonds, which move with growth and inflation expectations, hit a five-month high of 4.63 percent on Monday. The two-year yield, which moves with interest rate expectations, came within a whisker of a five-month high, up 0.05 percentage points at 4.94 percent .

The five-year breakeven inflation rate – a market measure of five-year inflation expectations – reached its highest level since March 2023. The breakeven inflation rate is generally very sensitive to oil prices, which have fell on Monday but remain close to a five-month high.

In foreign exchange markets, strong retail sales figures boosted the U.S. dollar index, which tracks the world’s dominant currency against six of its international peers.

The yen fell 0.7 percent past ¥154 per dollar for the first time since 1990, as traders slightly reduced their bets on rapid rate cuts from the Federal Reserve, strengthening the dollar .

U.S. stock markets fell sharply as Treasury yields rose, with the pain concentrated in interest-rate-sensitive technology stocks. The S&P 500 index was down 1.2 percent.

Torsten Slok, chief economist at Apollo, highlighted fears of a return to 2022, when stocks suffered a sharp sell-off.

“What characterized 2022 was that interest rates were rising, inflation was too high and therefore there was uncertainty about when the Fed would be done and whether the Fed would eventually create a slowdown,” Slok said.

Markets now anticipate between one and two quarter points of rate reduction by the Fed in 2024, whereas they expected between six and seven just four months ago.

Additional reporting by Stephanie Stacey in London

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Sara Adm

Aimant les mots, Sara Smith a commencé à écrire dès son plus jeune âge. En tant qu'éditeur en chef de son journal scolaire, il met en valeur ses compétences en racontant des récits impactants. Smith a ensuite étudié le journalisme à l'université Columbia, où il est diplômé en tête de sa classe.Après avoir étudié au New York Times, Sara décroche un poste de journaliste de nouvelles. Depuis dix ans, il a couvert des événements majeurs tels que les élections présidentielles et les catastrophes naturelles. Il a été acclamé pour sa capacité à créer des récits captivants qui capturent l'expérience humaine.
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