Stock markets slide on fears of rising inflation

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Stock markets across the world have slid amid worries that US inflation is set to rise.

In the US, the Dow fell 474 points to lose 1.4% on Tuesday - its largest one-day drop since late February.

European bourses also saw steep declines on fears among traders that rising consumer prices could push up interest rates.

The UK's benchmark share index, the FTSE 100, closed 2.47% lower.

The index retreated below the 7,000 mark to 6,947.99 after hitting a post-pandemic high of 7,164 on Monday.

"The market just can't shake the inflation fears which are clouding the recovery from Covid," said AJ Bell investment director Russ Mould.

"Surging commodity prices are acting as a canary in the coal mine for inflation - with the huge infrastructure and stimulus packages in the US a key contributing factor."

Stimulus effect

In March, US President Joe Biden signed a $1.9tn (£1.4tn) economic relief bill that saw the government send $1,400 cheques to most Americans, and last month he set out plans for more government spending on jobs, education and social care.

It has led to a build-up of savings which is now being spent as the economy reopens, driving prices higher.

Inflation hit 2.6% in the 12 months to March, breaching the Federal Reserve's target of 2% and raising fears it might raise rates to cool things down.

There are similar concerns in other economies, but central banks have so far played down the risks.

The tech-heavy US Nasdaq share index initially fell more than 2% on Tuesday as markets opened, but reversed those losses later on.

The sell-off also continued in Asia and Europe, with both France's Cac 40 index and Germany's Dax index down nearly 2%.

Ben Yearsley, investment director at Shore Financial, said inflation was always likely to pick-up over the next few months given that in the same period a year ago economies were closed and oil prices slumped.

He said investors should only get concerned if higher inflation continues. "If inflation persists and we are still talking about it in six months, for example, then that is a different scenario and will maybe lead to higher interest rates."

Other analysts raised concerns that new data released by the US Labor Department on Tuesday showed that the number of job vacancies jumped by 597,000 to a record high of 8.1 million on the last day of March.

The food and hotels sectors added the most vacancies, with the report following figures that showed last week that job growth slowed sharply in April, curbed by shortages of available workers despite huge fiscal stimulus.

On the London Stock Exchange, British Airways owner IAG was one of the biggest fallers, with its shares falling more than 7% on the back of negative investor reaction to the government's green list of safe countries to travel to.

Shares in NatWest Group fell more than 3%.The government announced on Tuesday morning it had sold another chunk of shares in the bank, reducing its stake from 59.8% to 54.8% and raising £1.1bn for taxpayers.

The concerns in markets are not only about the United States, but that is the main focus of the nervousness. In common with many other governments, the US has supported household incomes, at a time when people have been unable or unwilling to spend as they normally would.

So there has been a build-up of unplanned savings. As restrictions are lifted and vaccinations make people feel more confident, much of that is likely to be spent. If there are any persistent disturbances to supply chains, that would only add to the pressure pushing prices higher.

Will it lead the Federal Reserve and other central banks to change policy, to raise interest rates or curb their purchases of financial assets, or quantitative easing?

So far, the Fed has said it thinks the rise in inflation is due to "transitory factors" and it says expectations about future inflation are "well anchored".

So there is clearly no rush on its part to change policy. But investors are likely to remain wary that inflationary pressures might prove to be persistent and lead the Fed to rethink.

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