(Bloomberg) — Stocks wavered near all-time highs, with traders awaiting the start of the earnings season while keeping an eye on the US presidential race and any clues regarding the Federal Reserve’s next steps.

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If the S&P 500 finishes higher, it will be its 35th record this year. US consumers’ near-term inflation expectations fell for a second straight month, a Fed Bank of New York survey showed. Some of the largest banks will kick off the reporting season Friday, and analysts’ upgrades to profit estimates have outnumbered downgrades. At the same time, forecasts for 12-month forward earnings stand at an all-time high.

John Stoltzfus at Oppenheimer Asset Management said a robust earnings outlook and a resilient economy could support higher valuations. He raised his year-end S&P 500 target to 5,900. At Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Scott Rubner says the bar for corporate results is high — with lofty expectations already baked in.

“As earnings season kicks off this week, investors should be prepared to see some ‘choppiness,’ but the market will likely climb back up again once companies resume buybacks,” said Mark Hackett at Nationwide.

The S&P 500 hovered near 5,570. Nvidia Corp. rallied as UBS Group AG raised its target. More than 2,600 Boeing Co. 737 jets registered in the US will need to have their oxygen generators inspected. Broadcom Inc. is borrowing $5 billion in the investment-grade bond market.

Treasury 10-year yields were little changed at 4.29%. Bitcoin skidded anew on concern about possible sales of the token by creditors of the failed Mt. Gox exchange.

The lack of a clear winner in the French elections spurred speculation there’s unlikely to be major policy changes amid political gridlock. Meantime, US President Joe Biden pledged to fellow Democrats he’ll remain in the presidential race.

Traders should brace for a correction in the stock market as uncertainty swirls around corporate earnings, Fed policy and the US presidential campaign, according to Morgan Stanley’s Mike Wilson.

The third quarter is “going to be choppy,” Wilson told Bloomberg Television.

For the past two years, a small cohort of companies have contributed to the bulk of the gauge’s return: The S&P 500 has gained roughly 55% since the lows of October 2022 — but 58% of that advance has come from just the top 10 stocks in the benchmark, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“S&P 500 earnings growth will likely continue for the next year at a respectable pace,” said Nicholas Colas at DataTrek. “Moreover, those improvements should be broad-based rather than in just a few tech-heavy sectors. All this adds up to continued strength in US large caps.”

The S&P 500 is in its 11th-longest stretch without a 2% down day since 1928, according to Ed Clissold at Ned Davis Research.

“The end of previous long streaks has been followed by mixed returns, but not the end of the bull market, on average,” he noted. “Never (OK, rarely) short a dull market.”

Clissold also noted that this is one of the “hardest bull markets” for stock pickers in the last 50 years.

“What makes the current cycle unique is that so few stocks are driving returns, providing fewer opportunities for stock pickers to outperform than during previous low vol streaks,” he concluded.

Aside from the corporate world, traders will continue focused on the Fed outlook.

Jerome Powell will face pressure this week from lawmakers growing impatient for the Fed to cut rates and others who are unhappy with its latest plan to boost capital requirements for Wall Street lenders. The Fed chair heads to Capitol Hill on Tuesday and Wednesday for his semiannual testimony.

Also the June consumer price index data due Thursday will be a highlight. The so-called core CPI, which is seen as a better measure of underlying inflation, is expected to show the smallest back-to-back gains since August, a pace more palatable for Fed officials.

“While the CPI release will be key, we will be looking for signs from Powell that the Fed is edging closer to a decision to cash in its chips and move in September provided ongoing inflation news broadly confirms that the run-rate has stepped back down,” said Krishna Guha at Evercore.

If US inflation moderates without collateral damage to the economy, the resulting Fed easing cycle could be a tailwind for risk assets, according to Jason Pride and Michael Reynolds at Glenmede.

“Synchronized global easing cycles have historically been a bullish signal for equities in the short-to-medium term,” they noted.

The S&P 500 has posted forward returns of 9.9% in the 12 months immediately following periods of 40–60% of global central banks easing policy, Glenmede said. That number increases to 18.7% in the 80–100% tranche — suggesting that equities could benefit if more central banks hop on the easing bandwagon.

“The Fed is closing in on rate cuts, as the US economy moderates,” according to Principal Asset Management strategists. “We expect cuts in September and December, but that will require additional evidence of a slowdown.”

Bond markets appear to be beginning the back half of 2024 with a long bias, as economic data weakens and we approach rate cuts in the fall, according to Thomas Tzitzouris at Strategas. Despite the long positioning and Friday’s weaker jobs report, there are preliminary signs of shorts coming back, he noted.

“When we break down the positioning data we see a market that despite showing a long bias in anticipation of cuts, is not fully convinced this will occur with shorts slowly returning to the market,” Tzitzouris said. “Additionally, costlier long funding, and the return of shorts may limit downside in rates, despite the recent slowdown in economic data.”

Corporate Highlights:

  • Exxon Mobil Corp. expects refining profits to drop due to lower margins across the industry, reducing earnings estimates for the second quarter.

  • Southwest Airlines Co., which is facing demands for sweeping leadership and business changes from activist Elliott Investment Management, has named aviation industry veteran Rakesh Gangwal to its board.

  • Airbus SE logged its best monthly deliveries so far this year as the planemaker works to resolve its supply-chain woes and pares back its order backlog.

  • Eli Lilly & Co. agreed to buy U.S. gut-drug maker Morphic Holding Inc. for about $3.2 billion, plowing some of the proceeds from obesity blockbuster Zepbound into its experimental pipeline.

  • Devon Energy Corp. agreed to acquire the Williston Basin business of EnCap Investments LP’s Grayson Mill Energy for $5 billion as consolidation continues in the US oil patch.

  • Paramount Global agreed to merge with Skydance Media in a deal that hands control of the storied Hollywood studio to producer David Ellison, ending one of the industry’s most dramatic acquisitions.

  • Lucid Group Inc. beat expectations for quarterly production and deliveries, shaking off concerns about a slowdown in the electric-vehicle market.

Key events this week:

  • China aggregate financing, money supply, new yuan loans, Tuesday

  • Jerome Powell delivers semi-annual testimony to the Senate Banking Committee, Tuesday

  • US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen testifies to the House Financial Services Committee, Tuesday

  • Fed’s Michael Barr and Michelle Bowman speak, Tuesday

  • China PPI, CPI, Wednesday

  • Jerome Powell testifies to the House Financial Services Committee, Wednesday

  • Fed’s Austan Goolsbee, Michelle Bowman and Lisa Cook speak, Wednesday

  • US CPI, initial jobless claims, Thursday

  • Fed’s Raphael Bostic and Alberto Musalem speak, Thursday

  • China trade, Friday

  • University of Michigan consumer sentiment, US PPI, Friday

  • Citigroup, JPMorgan and Wells Fargo report earnings, Friday

Some of the main moves in markets:

Stocks

  • The S&P 500 was little changed as of 2:11 p.m. New York time

  • The Nasdaq 100 rose 0.1%

  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.1%

  • The MSCI World Index was little changed

Currencies

  • The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index was little changed

  • The euro fell 0.1% to $1.0828

  • The British pound was little changed at $1.2813

  • The Japanese yen was little changed at 160.76 per dollar

Cryptocurrencies

  • Bitcoin fell 1.6% to $56,366.3

  • Ether fell 0.4% to $2,986.82

Bonds

  • The yield on 10-year Treasuries was little changed at 4.27%

  • Germany’s 10-year yield declined two basis points to 2.54%

  • Britain’s 10-year yield declined one basis point to 4.11%

Commodities

  • West Texas Intermediate crude fell 0.9% to $82.40 a barrel

  • Spot gold fell 1.5% to $2,356.91 an ounce

This story was produced with the assistance of Bloomberg Automation.

–With assistance from Cecile Gutscher, Juliette Laffont, Catherine Bosley, Matthew Burgess, Vildana Hajric, Sagarika Jaisinghani, Alexandra Semenova and Natalia Kniazhevich.

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