Hopes sink for March rate cuts

A trader works, as a screen displays a news conference by Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell following the Fed rate announcement, on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., December 13, 2023. 

Brendan Mcdermid | Reuters

This report is from today’s CNBC Daily Open, our international markets newsletter. CNBC Daily Open brings investors up to speed on everything they need to know, no matter where they are. Like what you see? You can subscribe here.

What you need to know today

Hang Seng, Kospi up
In Asia,
Hong Kong and South Korea markets were higher on Thursday. In India, Paytm shares fell the maximum 20% in Mumbai after the country’s financial regulator ordered the payments firm to stop taking in new deposits from March. Overnight, U.S. stocks were sharply lower after Fed chair Jerome Powell said the central bank likely won’t be ready to cut rates in March. Yields for the 10-year U.S. Treasury fell below the key 4% level.

China tough place for U.S. firms
More U.S. companies are finding it tougher to be profitable in China compared to before the pandemic. That’s according to an annual survey released by the American Chamber of Commerce in China. “It is concerning when our member companies are not profitable,” Michael Hart, AmCham China president said. “They will not stay long if they are not profitable.”

Qualcomm tops estimates
Qualcomm‘s quarterly earnings topped estimates as sales of handset chips surged 16% year-on-year. The company said it shipped $6.69 billion in handset chips during the December quarter, up 16% from a year ago. It’s a good sign for the smartphone market after two years of declines.  

Meta’s fortunes
Meta’s continued rally could be tied to the fortunes of low-cost retailers Temu and Shein. Both the Chinese online commerce companies, have been significant contributors to Meta’s ad rebound, according to marketing veteran Victor Lee.

[PRO] Jefferies top picks
Alibaba, ASML are some of Jefferies’ “highest-conviction” stock picks to buy. The investment bank’s top picks are exposed to major themes such as innovation, new products, and emerging markets. One particular stock has a 118% upside.

The bottom line

Well, at least the Fed made one thing abundantly clear today. That rate cuts aren’t coming so soon.

Some investors expected the central bank to start cutting interest rates as early as March. But Federal Reserve Chair Powell shot down that hope. 

“I would tell you that I don’t think it’s likely that the committee will reach a level of confidence by time of the March meeting to identify March is the time to do that,” he said. “But that’s to be seen.”

″[March is] probably not the most likely case or what we would call the base case,” he added.

Powell couldn’t have been clearer and his cautious tone didn’t go down well in Wall Street.

All the major indexes tanked on the news and the 10-year U.S. Treasury yield ticked below the key 4% level. 

Markets may have been further spooked by the lack of clarity from the Fed on the timing of when it could start cutting rates, with Powell saying it will depend on data.

“Of course, if labor, if inflation were to surprise by moving back up, we would have to respond to that and that would be a surprise at this point,” he said.

“But I have to tell you that’s why we keep our options open here and why we’re not rushing,” adding uncertainties linger and inflation risks could reaccelerate.  

The attention will now turn to Friday’s jobs report as Wall Street continues to speculate on the Fed’s next moves.   

 — CNBC’s Jesse Pound and Tanaya Macheel contributed to this report.

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