Stock indexes are off to a positive start the week as investors brace for a string of key events that will shape sentiment leading up to the Federal Reserve's meeting on March 21-22.

First up is Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell's two-day testimony before Congress, starting with the Senate today and the House on Wednesday.

Investors will be extremely sensitive to any indications that the Fed is questioning the effectiveness of its inflation fight so far and/or suggestions that the Fed funds rate might climb higher than Wall Street is currently anticipating.

Insiders expect lawmakers will grill Powell on the latest data showing inflation remains stubbornly strong. If the Fed Chief tries to deflect those questions are otherwise attempts to brush off the January data, bulls will take that as a positive signal. Bulls believe a return of inflationary signals in January was a one-off and expect upcoming data could justify a pause in Fed rate hikes as soon as May or June.

A big test for that theory comes on Friday with the February Employment Report. Insiders are expecting a gain of around +215,000 jobs. Fed officials have indicated they would be happy with gains that are closer to where they were late last year, which was +260,000 in December and +290,000 in November.

The jobs report will be followed by key inflation reads from the Consumer Price Index (CPI) next Tuesday, March 14, and the Producer Price Index (PPI) on the 15th.

Critically, if the jobs report and CPI come in much higher than expected, hopes of a Fed pullback anytime soon will likely be squashed and push a lot of bulls back to the sidelines.

Of course a return to more moderate job gains and a slowdown in inflation are likely to reignite optimism for a more dovish Fed and could help launch another rally. Today's economic data includes Wholesale Inventories and Consumer Credit.

The latter is being more closely monitored for insights into how much debt consumers are taking on as inflation continues to squeeze budgets.

Earnings today are due from Casey's General Stores, CrowdStrike, and DICK'S Sporting Goods.

Inflation Boosted the 2023 Federal Income Tax Brackets: After a year of soaring prices, the IRS made annual inflation adjustments for dozens of tax provisions, including the federal income tax brackets for 2023, which may affect next year’s taxes, experts say. While the rates didn’t change, the brackets show the federal income taxes you’ll owe on each portion of your taxable income, which is calculated by subtracting the greater of the standard or itemized deductions from your adjusted gross income. According to Mark Steber, chief tax information officer at Jackson Hewitt, this year’s annual adjustments are more significant than usual, noting that “record-setting high inflation” contributed to the change. There was roughly a 7% change in the federal income tax brackets from 2022 to 2023, said Kyle Pomerleau, senior fellow and federal tax expert with the American Enterprise Institute. It's worth noting that the standard deduction also increased by nearly 7% for 2023, rising to $27,700 for married couples filing jointly, up from $25,900 in 2022. Single filers may claim $13,850, an increase from $12,950. Source CNBC

Researchers Used AI to Detect Alzheimer's Risk with Over 90% Accuracy: The use of A.I. in medicine has been growing in recent years, especially in diagnosing illnesses and diseases. A growing number of doctors already rely on deep learning, a machine learning method modeled on artificial neural networks to learn by example as human brains do, to help detect potentially life-threatening conditions that can be easily missed. But the next breakthrough for A.I. in medicine could be in identifying Alzheimer’s, for which treatment and reliable early detection have eluded medical researchers in the century since the disease’s discovery. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital recently tested deep learning techniques in Alzheimer’s detection, and found that not only was deep learning more accurate than comparative A.I. models that weren’t trained to analyze multiple variables together, it was also able to identify Alzheimer’s cases regardless of factors that usually complicate early-onset detection. The deep learning model was able to identify Alzheimer’s cases with a 90.2% accuracy rate, around five percentage points higher than the simpler A.I. models that did not rely on the deep learning system. A 90% accuracy rate in Alzheimer’s diagnosis would be leaps and bounds ahead of human clinical detection rates, which, according to a 2017 study, stand at 77% Source Fortune

Nestle, Tyson, and Other Food Giants Bet on "Air Fryer" Boom: Kettle Brand, known for its kettle-cooked potato chips, recently unveiled what it called “the future of the potato chip category”: air-fried chips. The Campbell Soup brand’s snack launch, made with patent-pending technology, is the latest example of Big Food betting on consumers’ love of all things cooked in air fryers. In 2022, U.S. consumers spent nearly $1 billion buying air fryers, up 51% from 2019, according to market research firm The NPD Group. Sales of the cooking appliance have been soaring since 2017, and they received an extra boost during the early days of the pandemic as people cooked more at home. Now with more workers returning to the office and spending less time in the kitchen, consumers are increasingly turning to the portable convection ovens. As inflation cools and retailers put pressure on suppliers to stop raising prices, food companies have had to look for growth elsewhere. In 2022, the air fryer leapfrogged over grills and multicookers to become the No. 4 cooking appliance, according to the NPD Group. It's estimated that roughly 60% of U.S. households have an air fryer at this point. Source CNBC

Lithium Battery Incidents On Planes Now Happening More Than Once Per Week: A Spirit Airlines flight from Dallas to Orlando was diverted to Jacksonville earlier this month after a lithium battery in a personal device caught fire in an overhead bin. Nobody was seriously injured, but 10 crew members and passengers were hospitalized as a precaution, according to reports from the Jacksonville Fire Department. Incidents of overheated lithium batteries on aircraft are now happening at a rate of more than one per week, on average. In 2022, the Federal Aviation Administration reported at least 62 incidents involving lithium-ion batteries on airplanes and in airports, compared to 54 incidents the previous year. “These are lithium battery related events involving smoke, fire, or extreme heat that the FAA is aware of and should not be considered a complete listing of all such incidents,” notes the agency. As more personal devices are powered by lithium-ion batteries, the number of these incidents has risen sharply over the past decade. In 2014, for example, the FAA reported only nine lithium battery incidents all year. Source Fortune

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