Investors and traders are hedging their bets–a little–ahead of tomorrow morning’s speech by Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell at the central banker’s (virtual) Jackson Hole jamboree. The worry is that Powell will says something relatively concrete about the Fed’s plans for decreasing its monthly $120 billion purchase of Treasuries and mortgage-backed assets. An end to those purchases is a prerequisite to any move by the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates. So any move on the purchase schedule would be an indicator of the Fed’s thinking about when/if to raise benchmark interest rates now at 0% to 0.25%.
The odds on bet is that the Fed chair won’t say anything–something Fed chairs are very good at tomorrow–and that the Fed’s Open Market Committee won’t say anything of substance at its September 22 meeting.
But, hey, even if that’s the heavy bet there’s no reason to go out on a limb before the speech. And maybe a little reason to hedge positions a bit.
We’re not talking big moves here.
As of the close in New York the Standard & Poor’s 500 is down 0.58%. That’s a slight retreat from 2:30 when the S&P 500 was down 0.46%. At noon the index was off just 0.22%. At the close the Dow Jones Industrial Average was lower by 0.54%; the NASDAQ Composite was down 0.64%; and the small cap Russell 2000 had given up 1.13%.
Over on the hedging side, the CBEO S&P 500 Volatility Index (VIX) is higher by 12.21% as of the lose to 18.84. At 12:30 the “fear index” had been up 5.30% to 17.68. I’d note that an 12% move in the VIX isn’t especially large when markets are feeling unsettled. And that the top of the recent range for the VIX, which climbs when sentiment becomes more “fearful,” has been near 21 or so.