Investors are playing the waiting game as uncertainties over North Korea, US tax policy and the French presidential elections cloud the market.
CommSec chief economist Craig James said Australian and international markets ended the week flat as investors waited to see what would happen.
“We saw flat outcomes in Europe and also weakness in the United States,” Mr James told AAP on Sunday.
“President (Donald) Trump also announced he will reveal his tax plans on Wednesday, so basically no one is going to get too far ahead of themselves until they see the detail there.”
The “who’s who” of corporate America will reveal their earning results this week.
“The earnings seasons so far has gone pretty well in the United States, but there are so many companies who are going to be reporting the result, you’d have be a brave investor to position yourself too far ahead,” Mr James said.
The first round of French presidential voting will be known on Monday and Mr James said if far-right candidate Marine Le Pen was knocked out early it would remove some uncertainty from the market.
Australia has benefited from some uncertainty, with the gold price and iron ore price up, but oil dropped substantially.
“It’s all about inflation here in Australia,” Mr James said.
He expects the headline rate of inflation to get back into the Reserve Bank’s target band around 2.2 or 2.3 per cent.
The CPI announcement will be made on Wednesday, trade prices will be announced on Thursday, and producer prices on Friday.
Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe will also give a speech on Thursday where he may talk about inflation.
Mr James rejected calls for housing to be included in CPI, after recent data showed national inflation statistics have not included the rapid growth of house prices.
He said the Australian Bureau of Statistics already produced a range of figures that take into account housing.
“I think it’s a pretty reasonable proximation, it’s held us in good stead for a long period of time,” Mr James said.
“You don’t want to see the policy makers or the bean counters wanting to move that one too far.”
Rising costs for petrol, fruits and vegetables and tobacco are expected to have lifted consumer prices in the March quarter, with headline inflation heading into the Reserve Bank’s target band.
The Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the March quarter will be released on Wednesday and is expected to have risen 0.6 per cent for an annual rate of 2.3 per cent, according to economists.
Underlying inflation, which strips out the effects of volatile price movements, is forecast to have been 0.5 per cent in the quarter and 1.8 per cent over the year.
“While underlying drivers of inflation remain subdued, the March quarter will likely be boosted by a perfect storm of higher electricity, petrol and fresh fruit and vegetable prices,” Citi economist Paul Brennan said.
Citi is forecasting a rise in the headline CPI of 0.7 per cent and a 0.5 per cent rise in underlying inflation.
In addition, higher tobacco prices and seasonal increases in health, education and childcare costs would add to to consumer prices.
While soft wages growth and spare capacity in the labour market weigh on core inflation, the headline inflation rate is likely to lift to within the RBA’s target band for the first time since the September quarter of 2014, Commonwealth Bank economist Gareth Aird said.
Economists expect the CPI figures to confirm the slowing consumer demand that has been apparent in recent muted retail sales data, indicating that margin pressure has intensified.
That will likely mean rate rises are off the table, according to Mr Aird.
“We think that the RBA remains on hold deep into 2018. The risk, in our view, still lies with further easing, particularly if the housing market falters,” he said.
The March inflation quarter data will be released on Wednesday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
US stocks have dipped as investors remained cautious ahead of the first round of the closely contested French presidential election, but the S&P 500 managed to notch its first weekly gain in three.
The first round of France’s presidential election may be too close to call when polls close on Sunday because initial projections will not be available as early as in the past, pollsters and their watchdog said.
Most polls see centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen qualifying on Sunday for a May 7 runoff, but conservative Francois Fillon and leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon are not far behind and within the margin of error.
“Nobody is taking anything for granted after the big swing and miss in Britain and the big swing and a miss here,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank in Chicago.
“I don’t think anyone wants to stick their neck out for this one.”
US President Donald Trump said he would have a major tax reform announcement on Wednesday.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 30.95 points, or 0.15 per cent, to 20,547.76, the S&P 500 lost 7.15 points, or 0.30 per cent, to 2,348.69 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 6.26 points, or 0.11 per cent, to 5,910.52.
For the week, the Dow rose 0.5 per cent, the S&P gained 0.8 per cent and the Nasdaq advanced 1.8 per cent in what was the first weekly gain for the top indexes over the last three weeks.
A steady stream of strong earnings through the week helped to buoy market sentiment.
Of the 95 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings through Friday morning, about 75 per cent have topped expectations, according to Thomson Reuters data, above the 71-per cent average for the past four quarters.
Overall, profits of S&P 500 companies are estimated to have risen 11.2 per cent in the quarter, the most since 2011.
Shares of General Electric fell 2.4 per cent to $US29.55 after the company reported negative cash flow from its industrial operations in the first quarter. The stock was the biggest drag on the S&P 500.
Schlumberger lost 2.2 per cent to $US74.84. The oilfield services provider warned that margins would remain under pressure as it spends more to bring back idled equipment.
Mattel tumbled after the toymaker reported a bigger-than-expected quarterly loss. The stock closed near its session low, down 13.6 per cent at $US21.79.
Federal Reserve Vice Chair Stanley Fischer told CNBC that the central bank remains on track for two more interest rate increases this year despite some soft economic data recently.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.19-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.40-to-1 ratio favoured decliners.
The S&P 500 posted 28 new 52-week highs and 1 new low; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 92 new highs and 39 new lows.
About 6.40 billion shares changed hands in US exchanges, slightly above the 6.31 billion daily average over the last 20 sessions.