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Investors look to upcoming earnings to keep stock rally going

right here. You can listen to an audio version of the newsletter by clicking the same link. New York CNN  —  With interest rate cuts on the backburner, Wall Street is looking to corporate earnings to continue powering the 2024 stock market rally. Analysts polled by FactSet expect second-quarter earnings of S&P 500 companies to grow about 8.7% on average from the prior year. That would mark the fourth-straight quarter of annual earnings growth for the benchmark index. Strong corporate earnings have helped the S&P 500 gain a whopping 16% and notch repeated record high closes this year. That’s despite sticky inflation during the first quarter pushing interest rate expectations further out. While data in recent months has signaled that inflation is cooling again, the Federal Reserve penciled in just one interest rate cut for 2024 at its June policy meeting. Investors are now forecasting up to three cuts, but at the beginning of the year, they were projecting up to six or seven. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Tuesday at a central bank policy forum in Sintra, Portugal, that prices are back on a “disinflationary path.” But he maintained that the central bank needs to see more data before easing rates. Since the Fed isn’t likely to cut rates anytime soon, the onus is on strong corporate earnings to continue driving the market rally. High interest rates tend to weigh on stocks, since they increase corporate borrowing costs and make virtually risk-free government bonds more attractive. “Earnings growth will be key to holding, or potentially building on these gains,” wrote Jeffrey Buchbinder, chief equity strategist at LPL Financial, in a Monday note. Earnings season kicks off July 12 when big banks including JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Citigroup report results. Investors will watch for clues about the health of the consumer. Recent economic data and warnings from retailers have signaled that lower- and middle-income Americans are tightening their purse strings. The June jobs report, due Friday, will give investors insight into the strength of the labor market. Preliminary data Tuesday revealed that job openings unexpectedly jumped higher to 8.14 million in May, suggesting the labor market remains resilient in the face of sky-high rates. Investors will also keep close tabs on results from mega-cap tech stocks, whose blockbuster returns account for much of the market’s gains this year. Shares of Nvidia, the leader of the pack, are up 159% in 2024 after reaching a $3 trillion market cap for the first time in June. Microsoft shares are up 23% and Meta Platforms shares have jumped 44%. Shares of Amazon, which joined the $2 trillion club last month, are up 30%. Wall Street is looking for signs that these companies’ balance sheets match their lofty valuations. The S&P 500’s total return for the first half of the year, including dividends, is 15.3%, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices data. Without Nvidia’s gains, the index’s total return is 10.7%. “High valuations will also need to be defended from rising uncertainty around monetary and fiscal policy, domestic and international elections and geopolitical conflict,” wrote Lisa Shalett, chief investment officer at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, in a Monday note. How Japan’s newest yen note came from the Nepali mountains Banks across Japan began stocking their ATMs on Wednesday with shiny new yen notes sourced from an unlikely location — vibrant yellow flowering paperbush shrubs that grow on craggy Himalayan mountains in Nepal. Before entering the wallets of Japanese consumers, the yen notes had a long, complex journey involving months of labor and transport by land and air across thousands of kilometers, report my colleagues Jessie Yeung, Hanako Montgomery and Junko Ogura. And this process has offered a potential new source of income to communities in one of the world’s poorest countries, by providing cash for one of its richest. Though Japan has pushed for more digital payments in recent years, cash still reigns king, and it trails behind other Asian countries like China that have gone almost completely cashless. “I really think that Nepal contributed to Japan’s economy, as cash is fundamental to the Japanese economy,” said Tadashi Matsubara, president of Kanpou, the company that produces paper for the Japanese government. “Without Nepal, Japan would not function.” Read more here. Chinese government bonds are on fire. That’s ringing alarm bells in Beijing Money is rushing into Chinese government bonds, sending their prices soaring and yields plunging to record lows as investors hunt for a safer alternative to the country’s ravaged real estate market and volatile stocks, reports my colleague Laura He. The yield on China’s onshore 10-year government bond, which is a benchmark for a wide range of interest rates, touched 2.18% this week, the lowest since 2002, when records began. Yields on 20-year and 30-year bonds are also hovering around historic lows. Bond yields, or the returns offered to investors for holding them, fall as prices rise. Lower borrowing costs should be welcome in an economy struggling to recover from a property crash, sluggish consumer spending and weak business confidence. But the sharp move in bonds is sparking talk of a bubble and triggering acute anxiety among China’s policymakers, who fear a crisis similar to the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) last year. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) has issued over 10 separate warnings since April about the risk that a bond bubble could burst, destabilizing financial markets and derailing the Chinese economy’s uneven recovery. Now it’s doing something unprecedented —borrowing bonds to sell them to tamp down prices. “SVB in the United States has taught us that the central bank needs to observe and evaluate the situation of the financial market from a macro-prudential perspective,” PBOC Governor Pan Gongsheng said at a financial forum in Shanghai late last month. Read more here.