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US stocks end higher as inflation data cements bets on rate hike pause

(Reuters) - The S&P 500 and Nasdaq reached their highest closes in 14 months on Tuesday after data showed consumer prices rose modestly in May, boosting bets that the Federal Reserve will not raise interest rates on Wednesday.

Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA) jumped 3.9%, becoming the first chipmaker to end a trading session with a market capitalization above $1 trillion after smaller rival Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ:AMD) gave an update on its artificial intelligence strategy that failed to impress investors. AMD dropped 3.6%.

Stocks advanced after a U.S. Labor Department report showed the consumer price index (CPI) rose 0.1% last month following a 0.4% jump in April, with core inflation unchanged at 0.4%.

On a year-on-year basis, headline inflation increased by a less-than-estimated 4.0%, reflecting declines in the cost of energy products and services, including gasoline and electricity.

"If the Fed was looking for data to point to say, 'We're going to pause in June,' I think they got it today," said Liz Young, head of investment strategy at SoFi (NASDAQ:SOFI) in New York.

"But it's another one of those that you can cut whichever way you want to make your case. If you want to be bullish, you say inflation is down more than 50% since its peak. If you want to be bearish, you can say inflation is still more than twice the Fed's target," Young said.

Traders have priced in a 93% chance that the U.S. central bank will hold interest rates at the 5%-5.25% range on Wednesday, and 62% odds of 25-basis-point hike in July, according to the CME Fedwatch tool.

The benchmark S&P 500 has recovered about 22% from its October 2022 closing low, fueled in large part by gains in market heavyweights such as Apple Inc (NASDAQ:AAPL), Nvidia Corp and Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) Inc. More recently, sectors such as energy and materials have climbed, as well as small-cap stocks.

U.S.-listed shares of Chinese companies rose after China's central bank lowered its short-term lending rate for the first time in 10 months. Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) Group gained 1.9% and JD (NASDAQ:JD).com jumped 3.5%.

The S&P 500 climbed 0.69% to end the session at 4,369.01 points.

The Nasdaq gained 0.83% to 13,573.32 points, while Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.43% to 34,212.12 points.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was relatively heavy, with 11.6 billion shares traded, compared to an average of 10.6 billion shares over the previous 20 sessions.

Ten the 11 S&P 500 sector indexes rose, led by materials, up 2.33%, followed by a 1.16% gain in industrials.

The small-cap Russell 2000 index jumped 1.2% to a three-month high.

Intel Corp (NASDAQ:INTC) gained 2.5% after a report the chipmaker is in talks with SoftBank Group Corp's Arm to be an anchor investor in its initial public offering.

Bunge (NYSE:BG) Ltd rallied 2.5% after the U.S. grains merchant and Glencore-backed Viterra said they were merging to create an agricultural trading giant worth about $34 billion, including debt.

The most traded stock in the S&P 500 was Tesla Inc, with $40.8 billion worth of shares exchanged during the session. The shares rose 3.55%.

Advancing issues outnumbered falling ones within the S&P 500 by a 4-to-1 ratio.

The S&P 500 posted 43 new highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 135 new highs and 47 new lows.

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