Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell didn’t surprise Wall Street with his speech today at the (virtual) Jackson Hole central bankers conference. Instead he left the Federal Reserve on a path to begin reducing its purchases of Treasuries and mortgage-backed assets from the current $120 billion a month rate sometime in 2021. Powell said added that at the Fed’s last policy meeting in July, he “was of the view, as were most participants, that if the economy evolved broadly as anticipated, it could be appropriate to start reducing the pace of asset purchases this year.” Powell did not lay out a clear timeline for when the Fed could change its policies, or how the Fed could structure its taper.
And most importantly for Wall Street he didn’t push ahead with a schedule for raising the central bank’s benchmark interest rate from the current 0% to 0.25% range.
It was, all in all, a profoundly reassuring speech. The Delta variant isn’t a huge risk to the economy: “While the Delta variant presents a near-term risk, the prospects are good for continued progress toward maximum employment.” Inflation is under control and the job market is on a path to recovery. “My view is that the ‘substantial further progress test’ has been met for inflation,” Powell said. “There has also been clear progress toward maximum employment.”
No surprise, then, that the stock market breathed sigh of relief and moved to new record highs. The Standard & Poor’s 500 closed up 0.88% and the Dow added 0.69%. The NASDAQ Composite line 1.23% and the small cap Russell 2000 soared 2.85%.
Investors and traders saw no reason to buy hedges today. The CBOE S&P 500 Volatility Index (VIX) dropped 13.32% to close at 16.33.
The price of 10-year Treasuries rose slightly dropping the yield to 1.31% today, a retreat of 4 basis points.