Wall Street Steady to Smidge Lower

NEW YORK (AP) -- U.S. stocks are sloshing around in uncertain trading Tuesday following the latest update on inflation.

The S&P 500 was virtually unchanged in early trading after giving up an earlier gain. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 40 points, or 0.1%, as of 9:45 a.m. Eastern time, and the Nasdaq composite was 0.1% lower.

The highly anticipated inflation report said prices paid by U.S. consumers rose a bit more last month than economists expected. It kept the door closed on hopes that the Federal Reserve could deliver the cuts to interest rates that Wall Street craves at its next meeting next week.

But the inflation figures were still close to expectations, and traders are holding onto hopes that the longer-term trend downward will keep the Fed on track to cut its main interest rate in June. Plus, inflation may not be as hot in reality as the morning's report suggested.

"January and February are notoriously noisy months for a lot of economic data," said Brian Jacobsen, chief economist at Annex Wealth Management.

"The Fed wasn't planning on cutting rates next week, and this report doesn't change that. The discussion around the table will be more about the longer-term trend."

The immediate reaction across financial markets to the inflation data was halting and uncertain.

In the bond market, Treasury yields initially dropped and then swung higher. Futures contracts tied to U.S. stock indexes also swiveled sharply, while a measure of nervousness among U.S. stock traders eased.

The price of gold, which has shot to records on expectations for coming rate cuts, also swung. It was recently down 1.1% at $2,163.80 per ounce.

The fear is "sticky" inflation that refuses to go down will force the Fed to keep interest rates high, which grinds down on the economy and investment prices.

"Another hotter-than-expected CPI reading may breathe new life into the sticky inflation narrative, but whether it actually delays rate cuts is a different story," said Chris Larkin, managing director, trading and investing, at E-Trade from Morgan Stanley.

For months, traders on Wall Street have been trying to get ahead of the Federal Reserve and guess when cuts to rates will arrive. They have already sent stock prices higher and bond yields lower in anticipation of it.

Through it all, the Fed has remained "nothing if not consistent in doing what it said it would do," Larkin said. "Until they say otherwise, their plan is to cut rate cuts in the second half of the year."

On Wall Street, Oracle jumped 11.1% after reporting stronger profit for the latest quarter than analysts expected.

Nvidia also rose 0.9% following a rare two-day stumble in what's been a rocket ride as it rides Wall Street's frenzy around artificial-intelligence technology. The company's stock has grown into one of the market's most influential because of its sudden swelling in size, and it was the strongest force pushing the S&P 500 upward.

New York Community Bancorp rose 0.8% after it said it closed its previously announced deal that raised roughly $1.05 billion in cash from the sale of stock. The bank has been struggling under the weight of falling prices for commercial real estate and the growing pains associated with prior acquisitions it made. Its troubles have also reignited worries about trouble for the broader regional banking industry.

3M climbed 6.5% after it said Bill Brown, the former chairman and CEO of L3Harris Technologies, will take over as its CEO at the start of May.

On the losing end of Wall Street was Southwest Airlines. It dropped 13% after cutting its forecast for an important measure of revenue in the first three months of this year, partially because of lower-than-expected flying by some leisure travelers.

It also said Boeing told the company that it will deliver fewer airplanes than expected this year. Shares of Boeing, which is facing criticism over its safety and manufacturing quality, sank 3.9%.

In the bond market, the yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 4.14% from 4.10% late Monday.

In stock markets abroad, Japan's Nikkei 225 slipped 0.1% to retreat further from its recent records. Expectations are building that its central bank will raise interest rates, which are below zero.

Indexes jumped 3.1% in Hong Kong and 1.1% in London but moved more modestly elsewhere across Asia and Europe.