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To shoo away the bond market's doves, inflation needs to show up

Investors await more insight into the Federal Reserve's thinking on how it is meeting its inflation mandate

New York

IT'S going to take a lot to dispel the bond market's view that the world's biggest economy needs stimulus, but some consistent signals on inflation would help.

The rebound in March payrolls may have allayed concern that US growth is headed for a ditch, and supported the updraft in yields seen last week. But the weaker-than-expected wage growth in Friday's employment data still left futures markets reflecting a 70 per cent chance of a quarter-point Federal Reserve rate cut this year.

That's well out of step with the central bank's current signalling, that it will pause through 2019 and potentially hike again next year.

"For the market to begin pricing in a hike, we will need to see persistent inflation pressures," said Noelle Corum, a portfolio manager in the fixed-income group at Invesco Advisers Inc.

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Her expectation is that inflation will quicken enough by year-end to justify another rate increase.

Benchmark 10-year Treasuries yield 2.5 per cent. That's up about 16 basis points from the 15-month low set in March as last week also brought encouraging signs on growth from China. Friday's US figures also confirmed that the American jobless rate remains close to the lowest in decades.

While bond prices may seem out of step with the tight labour market, they jibe pretty well with investors' grim outlook for inflation, said Martin Hegarty at Garda Capital Partners. He said the pricing in inflation markets translates to a sustained undershoot on the Fed's preferred inflation gauge, a phenomenon that would typically justify easing. The central bank's target for that measure is 2 per cent. It's now at 1.4 per cent.

Consumer prices probably rose 1.8 per cent in March from a year earlier, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg survey before this week's report. In the market for Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities, traders see that clip continuing for the next five years.

"We think the path of inflation priced into the TIPS market is too low," particularly with officials planning to revisit their inflation-targeting framework, said Mr Hegarty, a global fixed-income portfolio manager focused on inflation markets.

Investors are about to get more insight into the Fed's thinking on how it is meeting its inflation mandate. This week brings the minutes from March's policy meeting, after which traders ramped up easing bets in response to the Fed's downward revisions to economic and interest-rate projections.

As for market drivers, this week's inflation data may fail to force traders out of their dovish positions.

Mr Hegarty says a 0.3 per cent monthly increase in the core consumer price index, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, could get the market's attention. That reading would be above consensus and a pick-up from 0.1 per cent in February. On an annual basis, core consumer inflation probably remained at 2.1 per cent.

If the inflation data fizzles, the best catalyst to push traders to a more neutral position on rates would have to come from overseas, he says. He's focusing on data on Chinese manufacturing, and he'll also be watching European CPI figures this week.

"One of the biggest things that I'd focus on when looking at how we can price out any cuts in the front end of the US curve would be looking at global activity data." BLOOMBERG

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