Wall St set to open flat ahead of Easter break, eyes sharp Q1 gains

By Shashwat Chauhan and Bansari Mayur Kamdar

(Reuters) -Wall Street’s main stock indexes were set to open flat on Thursday in thin trading ahead of Easter break, as investors awaited more data to gauge the Federal Reserve’s policy path on the last business day of a strong first quarter.

The three main indexes were set for strong quarterly gains, as an AI-fueled rally and optimism around the Fed’s rate cuts helped lift Wall Street to record highs this month.

The blue-chip Dow was just 0.6% short of crossing the 40,000 level for the first time.

All three indexes ended higher in the previous session, with the Dow jumping more than 1% to post its best daily gain this year, while the clocked an all-time closing high.

“Despite the fact that inflation has remained stubbornly high, investors are more impressed with the state of the economy and the resilient consumer than they are worried about Fed rate cuts being pushed farther,” Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer at Independent Advisor Alliance said in a note.

Heading into the long weekend, focus will also be on the Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index (PCE), the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge, which is due on Good Friday, when the U.S. stock market will remain shut.

“This Friday’s PCE report will be more important than usual as it will show whether or not the previous inflation reports this year were temporary setbacks or a beginning of a new trend of higher-for-longer inflation.”

Overnight, Fed Governor Christopher Waller said recent disappointing inflation data affirms the case for the Fed to hold off on cutting its short-term interest rate target, but he did not rule out trimming rates later in the year.

Traders see a 64% chance that the Fed will begin its easing cycle in June, as per the CME FedWatch tool.

Investors awaited the final readings of fourth-quarter GDP, the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment survey and the weekly jobless claims data.

At 8:10 a.m. ET, were up 12 points, or 0.03%, were down 1 points, or 0.02%, and were down 3.25 points, or 0.02%.

Among individual stocks, chipmaker Nvidia (NASDAQ:) dipped 0.3% before the bell, after falling more than 2% each in the last two sessions. The AI winner is still set for more than 80% gains this quarter.

The Philadelphia Semiconductor Index is on track to end its second straight quarter with double-digit gains.

Take-Two (NASDAQ:) Interactive Software shed 1.6% after the video game publisher said it would buy Gearbox Entertainment, best known for the first-person shooter game Borderlands, from Sweden’s Embracer for $460 million.

Cryptocurrency and blockchain-related companies advanced as bitcoin recovered after a two-day slide. Exchange operator Coinbase (NASDAQ:) Global, software company MicroStrategy and crypto miner Riot Platforms (NASDAQ:) rose between 0.9% and 2.6%.

Walgreens Boots Alliance (NASDAQ:) slipped 1.1% after the pharmacy chain cut the higher end of its profit forecast for fiscal 2024 and took a $5.8-billion impairment charge related to its VillageMD business.

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