This chart shows we are past peak inflation fear, supporting the stock market rally

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Traders at the New York Stock Exchange.

Source: NYSE

One of the biggest fears investors have faced this year is the threat that inflation could run amok and thwart the post-pandemic economic recovery.

But over the past month, those fears have abated significantly, and a chart diagramming the trend could be signaling the next leg up in the stock market.

A popular measure of market anticipation for inflation is the difference between Treasury yields and inflation-indexed bonds of the same duration. The metric is known as the “breakeven” rate, and investors and economists most often look at the 5- and 10-year spreads.

After rising in May to their highest levels in about eight years, those breakeven rates have been falling consistently, indicating that investors no longer see inflation maintaining its current blistering pace far into the future. The 5-year breakeven rate is now at 2.45% while the 10-year sits at 2.33%, indicating that markets see inflation falling over a longer time frame.

“To us, this signals that markets are starting to give up on the idea of structurally higher US inflation,” wrote Nick Colas, co-founder of DataTrek Research. “Looking into the back half of 2021, this may well be the single most important data point to watch.”

Inflation is important to investors because higher prices can eat into company profits.

But those price pressures also can signal that the economy is running too hot, and that in turn can cause the Federal Reserve to start tightening monetary policy. That would mean higher interest rates and the likelihood that the central bank would turn off the spigots on its monthly bond buying program, which currently is running at a pace of at least $120 billion.

Fed officials, though, have been steadfast in their view that the current spate of inflation is “transitory.” The assertions come even though the personal consumption expenditures price index, which is the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge, increased 3.4% year over year in May excluding food and energy prices. Headline consumer price index inflation ran at a 5% clip for the month.

Those levels are well above the Fed’s 2% goal, and some officials have conceded that inflation has been stronger and more persistent than they had anticipated.

Richmond Fed President Thomas Barkin said Monday that market-based inflation measures like the breakeven rates “at least give me some comfort” that expectations are for a cooling-off in the long run. But he added Tuesday that the current pace “reasonably” meets the Fed’s “substantial further progress” inflation goal, even while the labor market is falling short.

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