As the day wore on, the stock market decided that it liked Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s Senate testimony less and less.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 was down just 0.72% at 11 a.m. New York time. The index closed down 1.53% for the day.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the day down 1.72%. The NASDAQ Composite closed 1.25% lower. The NASDAQ 100 ended off 1.22%. The small-cap Russell 2000 was off 1.11%.
In his testimony, Powell’s first congressional testimony since June, Powell said “The latest economic data have come in stronger than expected, which suggests that the ultimate level of interest rates is likely to be higher than previously anticipated.” And “if the totality of the data were to indicate that faster tightening is warranted, we would be prepared to increase the pace of rate hikes.”
Hearing that traders began to price in a 50 basis point interest rate increase at the Fed’s March 22 meeting. Odds of a 50 basis point move rose to 70.5%, according to the CME FedWatch tool, which uses prices in the Fed Funds Futures market to project the odds of a Fed move on interest rates. The odds of a 25 basis point increase–the consensus belief not that long ago–fell to 25%. The odds of a 25 basis point increase had been at 76% a week ago
The Fed is likely to confirm a higher and faster path when it releases its Dot Plot economic projections at the March 22 meeting. That release will be the first update of the central bank’s economic projections on interest rates, inflation, unemployment, and GDP growth since December 14.
“We do have two or three more very important data releases to analyze before the time of the FOMC meeting,” he told Senators. “Those are going to be very important in the assessment we have of this relatively recent data.”
But Powell did make it clear that the Fed was prepared to return to a bigger 50 basis point increase even after reducing its interest rate move to just 25 basis points at its February 1 meeting.
My take on that is that Fed officials wouldn’t be wasting their time talking about and signaling the possibility of a 50 basis point increase at the March 22 meeting if it wasn’t a very real possibility. The Fed operates, as much as it can, by consensus, so the voting members of the Fed’s Open Market Committee know how everyone will vote before the date of the actual meeting. I’d also guess that the Fed already knows the contents of Friday’s jobs report for February. If the jobs number was about to drop back down to the “safe” zone after January’s surge, I don’t expect that the Fed would be preparing the financial markets for a 50 basis point increase.
Treasury prices fell and yields continued to climb today. The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose 1 basis point to 3.97%. The yield on the very Fed Funds rate-sensitive 2-year treasury rose to 5.01% from 4.86% on Friday. The yield on the 12-month Treasury note climbed to 5.20% from 5.00% on March 3.