FILE - In this July 20, 2015, file photo, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, from left, with Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer, and the board of governors of the Federal Reserve System, presides over a meeting in Washington. Nine years after they last raised their benchmark interest rate and after months of feverish speculation, Federal Reserve policymakers this week may finally raise that rate from a record low near zero. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
The long-awaited September FOMC meeting is finally upon us. And if history is any guide, there is little doubt that today’s decision will have an impact on the near-term direction of the stock market indices. Well, after the usual post-announcement hysterics in both directions, that is.I’ve seen all kinds of segments on TV and on the popular financial sites advising folks on “how to trade the Fed decision.” But in my humble opinion, this is sheer folly. Let’s be honest about a couple of things here. First, while we can all opine as to what we think Yellen will or won’t say in a few hours, the outcome of the meeting is anything but certain today. And then perhaps more importantly, there is the issue of which way the algos will ultimately decide to take prices after the announcement has been made.
The point is that in all honesty, even if we knew what Yellen was going to say, it would be tough to figure out which way stock prices will move from here.
The key questions traders are wrestling with at the present time include: Will they or won’t they? Should they or shouldn’t they? (Raise rates, that is.) And will the outcome be a surprise to the markets, or not?
Currently Fed Funds futures are projecting only a 21% chance of Ms. Yellen announcing a “liftoff” in rates this afternoon (this is down from 25% earlier in the week). Yet 49% of economists surveyed by the WSJ are expecting to see the Fed take action. And then a Reuters poll of economists done yesterday showed that 43% expect rates to be tightened today while 57% are projecting the Fed to remain on hold.
Given the price action in the indices this week, one can argue that at least part of the rebound has been tied to the idea that the FOMC isn’t likely to initiate a rate hike in a volatile stock market environment. History shows that it has happened, but not very often. As such, the Fed doing nothing today could be baked into prices at this point.
From a price standpoint, it is not surprising to see that traders have moved the S&P up into a fairly important resistance zone in front of the announcement. So, it will be interesting to see if the bulls can muster up a break higher on “good news.”
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Looking at the big picture, the situation becomes much clearer. Although folks appear to be split on what could/should happen at today’s Fed pow-wow, most everyone agrees that the Yellen & Co. need to get rates off the zero-bound sooner rather than later. From there, the big question is what the “glide path” of the “liftoff” will look like. I.E. Will the Fed be “one and done” until inflation moves closer to the 2% FOMC target? Or does the committee have something else in mind?
Unfortunately, anyone expecting to get some clarity on this subject this afternoon is likely to be disappointed. While the FOMC members have made it very clear that they want to raise rates, they also want to remain “data dependent” going forward. And on the subject of what to expect after the initial “liftoff” occurs, members of the committee have been rather tight lipped. And the bottom line is that Janet Yellen isn’t likely to deviate from this stance today.
So there you have it. As usual, look for wild swings in the indices immediately following the Fed’s announcement. But from there it gets difficult to know what to expect from a short-term perspective. As such, short-term traders would appear to have their work cut out for them whereas those with a longer-term perspective can probably ignore the whole thing!