Investors were on edge ahead of Jerome Powell’s highly-anticipated Humphrey-Hawkins testimony to the House Financial Services Committee. While Powell was seen as the status quo candidate to replace outgoing Fed chair Yellen, some traders still harbored some uncertainty about his qualifications, which include extensive policymaking experience, but less formal experience (including the conspicuous lack of a doctorate degree) than we’ve come to expect from the head of a central bank.
All in all, Powell appears to have acquitted himself relatively well in his first public appearance as the Fed chairman. Powell’s prepared remarks were notably short and generally optimistic, setting the tone for a similarly upbeat assessment of the US economy in the question-and-answer component of his testimony.
For traders, the most significant part of the testimony was when Powell was asked what would cause the Fed to raise rates faster than three times this year. Powell (predictably) dodged the question, noting that he didn’t want to prejudge the Fed’s rate path for the entire year, but then went on to outline several reasons why he believes the economy continues to strengthen. He later noted that the risks of a recession are not high at the moment.
Though far from a full-throated endorsement of four rate increases this year, Powell’s comments seem to suggest he’s leaning in that direction. As a result, we’ve seen the market-implied odds of a rate hike in March rise by nearly 10% to 87%, and the probability of a four (or more) rate hikes this year rise by 10% to around 35%, according to the CME’s FedWatch tool.
Not surprisingly, this repricing of the Fed’s rate hike path has had a notable impact on markets as well:
- The dollar index is trading higher by 0.5% on the day to test its highest level in five weeks.
- The S&P 500 has dropped into negative territory (-0.4% as of writing) after opening positive
- The yield on the benchmark 10-year bond is rising by 4bps to 2.91%
- Both gold and oil are falling by more than 1% on the day
Technically speaking, the dollar index’s price action is the most interesting development. After forming a false breakdown below 88.50 two weeks ago, the greenback has come storming back. The dollar index is on the verge of confirming a “double bottom” pattern if it can break above 90.57 (though we’d also note a possible hurdle at previous-support-turned-resistance near 91.00). If the buck can break above those levels, a more sustained rally over the coming days would be likely.
Source: Faraday Research, TradingView.com
Looking ahead, Powell will have the opportunity to refine his remarks and clarify any misconceptions when he testifies to the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday, though that secondary testimony is typically less market-moving than the Fed chair’s initial comments. Fed officials are also likely to keep a close eye on Thursday’s core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) release to see if it confirms the price pressures seen in other recent inflation data.