Stocks slide on rate hike fears, gold prices gain

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FILE PHOTO: A trader works inside a booth on the floor of the NYSE in New York

By Herbert Lash and Pete Schroeder

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – European stocks climbed to record closing highs on Wednesday but a gauge of global equities slid on worries that rising inflation could push the U.S. Federal Reserve to raise interest rates sooner than expected, an outlook that boosted gold.

Soaring gasoline prices in Europe also fueled inflation fears but strong earnings reports helped push Germany’s DAX, the French CAC 40 and the pan-European STOXX 600 to fresh closing records.

The dollar eased from a fresh 16-month high, while the euro remained a little soft as investors weighed the odds of central bank tightening, which could slow growth, amid rising price pressures.

Concerns that the Fed may mishandle inflation are overblown as the U.S. central bank has clearly signaled how it will reduce its bond-buying without destabilizing the market, said David Bahnsen, chief investment officer at wealth manager The Bahnsen Group in Newport Beach, California.

“I simply do not believe the market ultimately expects a policy mistake that drives out some of the liquidity that has helped these markets,” Bahnsen said.

Investors are waiting to see how productivity impacts profitability and gross sales next year, he said.

“It’s all pretty rational. The problem is where do you go from here? Valuations are quite high,” Bahnsen said.

The broad STOXX Europe 600 index rose 0.14% as MSCI’s U.S.-centric all-country world index slid 0.26%.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 0.52%, the S&P 500 fell 0.17% and the Nasdaq Composite lost 0.22%.

Target Corp raised its holiday season sales forecast but the retailer also warned of higher costs that heightened concerns its margins could be pressured. Its shares fell 4.7%.

Visa Inc fell 5.9% and was the biggest drag on the Dow after Amazon.com Inc said it would stop accepting credit cards issued by the firm in the UK from next year due to the high fees charged for transactions.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback versus a basket of six currencies, fell 0.12% to 95.825.

The euro eased 0.05% to $1.1313, while the yen fell 0.62% to $114.1100.

Investors think higher inflation could encourage the Fed to accelerate the tapering of its asset purchase program.

The Fed began phasing out its bond-buying this month and expects to end purchases altogether by mid-2022.

“Ultimately we’re in a place where it looks like growth is still pretty strong,” said Mike Bell, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management. “The Fed is going to taper before they put rates up, and I think that’s supporting dollar.”

Inflation worries pushed investors to safe-haven gold. U.S. gold futures settled up 0.9% at $1,870.20 an ounce.

$1 TRILLION INFLOWS

Global equities have seen inflows of about $1 trillion in the past 51 weeks as positive news on coronavirus vaccines emerged, Goldman Sachs said in a note, adding this year has already seen four times the inflows of the previous best year.

Oil prices slumped after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and the International Energy Agency warned of impending oversupply and that rising COVID-19 cases in Europe increased the downside risks to demand recovery.

The two major crude benchmarks fell to their lowest closing levels since early October.

Brent crude fell $2.15 to settle at $80.28 a barrel. U.S. crude settled down $2.40 at $78.36 a barrel.

U.S. Treasuries rallied as a recent backup in yields reached levels that lured buyers back into the securities and after the Treasury sold 20-year bonds to tepid, but not terrible demand.

Benchmark 10-year yields reached 1.65%, the highest since Oct. 26, before retreating and falling back to 1.61%. They have increased from a low of 1.42% last week, before data showed that U.S. consumer prices posted their biggest gain in 31 years in October.

German bond yields edged higher, with the market caught between hopes of a strong economic recovery and worries about the impact of surging coronavirus infections.

German 10-year yields rose 0.9 basis points to -0.249.

(Reporting by Herbert Lash, additional reporting by Tom Wilson in London, Alun John in Hong Kong and Pete Schroeder in Washington; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Nick Zieminski and Gareth Jones)

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