Powell’s speech support U.S. rate-cut bets

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. interest rates futures rose on Friday as Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said the central bank will do what it can to preserve the longest U.S. economic expansion on record, supporting bets on a further decline in key borrowing costs.

FILE PHOTO: A screen shows the numbers after the closing bell as traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., August 14, 2019. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Powell, in a highly anticipated speech at an economic symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, said the Fed must “look through what may be passing events, focus on how trade developments are affecting the outlook, and adjust policy to promote our objectives” of 2% inflation and strong employment.

“Powell’s Jackson Hole speech did not mention a mid-cycle adjustment and investors could take that as a hint that he is probably closer to an easing cycle than just seeing a couple of rate cuts,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA in New York.

Last month, the Fed lowered key borrowing costs for the first time since 2008, citing a softening global economy and sluggish domestic inflation.

Deteriorating manufacturing activity around the world, exacerbated by the U.S.-China trade spat, has underpinned bets that U.S. policymakers would opt to provide more stimulus to extend the domestic economic expansion, analysts said.

Some doubts about the timing and number of rate cuts emerged this week.

On Thursday, Kansas City Fed President Esther George and Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker said the Fed need not deliver more economic stimulus now, following a rate cut for the first time in more than a decade in July.

Their hawkish views failed to shake traders’ conviction that the Fed needs to lower rates again at its September meeting.

Traders now see another quarter-point cut as the Fed’s most likely next move, according to CME Group’s FedWatch tool. They no longer see an aggressive half-point cut as a possibility, even as St. Louis Fed President James Bulllard said on Friday a “robust debate” on such a move would happen next month.

Fed funds contracts implied traders see a 95.0% chance of a quarter-point rate cut at the Fed’s Sept. 17-18 policy meeting, up from 90% on Wednesday and 77.7% a week ago, CME’s FedWatch showed.

“Powell’s speech pretty much cements in only a 25 basis-point cut in September,” Moya said.

Powell’s latest speech did not revive much conviction the Fed is ready to embark on an aggressive half-point rate decrease at its September policy meeting, analysts said.

The fed funds complex implied traders see a roughly 5% chance of a half-point rate cut in September, compared with zero late on Thursday.

(Graphic: U.S. Fed’s next rate cut? link: here)

Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Richard Chang

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