Dow inches higher ahead of eventful week

The Dow and the broader US stock market opened slightly higher ahead of a busy week, including a highly anticipated Federal Reserve meeting.

The Dow was up 0.1%, or 32 points, early in the trading day. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite rose 0.2% and 0.8%, respectively.

In outright negative news for stocks, the Empire State manufacturing survey missed expectations and contracted in June. Economists expected the New York manufacturing industry to expand. Instead, the decline of the business conditions index was the largest on record, according to the New York Fed.

“That’s the worst print since October 2016,” said Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group. “It’s hard not to think this is all about tariffs and what it is doing to business confidence.”

Even the threat of tariffs was enough to put fear into businesses, he added. Capital spending in the Empire State survey slumped accordingly, showing that companies are skeptical about making investments.

The Fed

This week’s Fed meeting on Wednesday is front and center in investors’ minds. No changes to interest rates are expected, but investors will be watching Chairman Jerome Powell’s press conference for clues about future action.

Two weeks ago, Powell said the central bank would act as appropriate to sustain US economic growth. Markets took that to mean that an interest rate cut was imminent. Expectations for a cut in July are 83%, according to the CME’s FedWatch tool.

By signaling rate cuts are coming, Powell could add more fuel to this fire, which would probably send stocks higher. But if he says nothing about rate cuts, or if he signals the Fed will keep rates steady, stocks could sell off. Either way, stocks could be volatile Wednesday, so maybe we should be thankful for a quiet start to the week.

The global trade war

“There remains a huge element of uncertainty about how and when the Fed will cut interest rates because of the meeting between Trump and Xi at the G20 meeting next week,” wrote Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at Oanda, in a note.

President Donald Trump and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping are poised to meet at the sidelines of the G20 summit in Japan next week. Trump has said China would immediately face further tariffs if Xi didn’t show up for the summit.

“The trade war between the world’s two largest economies has created enormous uncertainty for both economies and weighed on the outlook, forcing the Fed to pause the tightening cycle and consider easing conditions instead,” Erlam wrote.

So far no end to the US-China trade spat appears to be on the horizon.

Although the United States managed to reach an agreement with Mexico that avoided import duties on Mexican goods, India imposed long-awaited tariffs on US imports in response to the steel and aluminum levies that Washington slapped on last year.

The retaliatory 70% tariff impact 28 products sold from the United States to India, including apples, almonds, lentils and chemical products.

“These retaliatory measures show the vulnerability of the high pressure strategy characterized by the current US trade policy,” said Timme Spakman, economist at ING.

Negotiations won’t be as easy as they were with Mexico every time, Spakman continued, and that heightens the risk of escalating tit-for-tat tariffs fights.