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Dow Ekes Out Gains Without Rate Cut as Defiant Powell Defends His Job

Last Updated September 23, 2020 12:47 PM
Francois Aure
Last Updated September 23, 2020 12:47 PM

By CCN.com: The Dow Jones Industrial Average was meandering in and out of positive territory as investors digested a fascinating Federal Reserve meeting. In the end, stocks managed to hold onto gains, with the Dow closing at 26,504, up fractionally. By keeping rates on hold, Chairman Jerome Powell faced his first-ever dissenter. St. Louis Fed President James Bullard voted for a rate cut. Could the Fed chair’s job be at risk ?

Dow Jones, Federal Reserve, Powell
Dow Jones tracks sideways as Jerome Powell faces a dissenter and defies Trump. | Source- Yahoo Finance

Dow Fails to Rally

The lack of direction in the Dow was likely due to the fact that the Fed was split down the middle over its interest rate outlook. Eight members expect no change this year while another eight foresee a cut (only one FOMC member sees a hike). In Powell’s accompanying press conference, he was quick to stress that even those who predicted no cut this year believe that the case for easing has grown. In a show of defiance, he also strongly rebuked Trump’s claims  he can be removed from his position. According to CNBC , Powell stated:

“I think the law is clear that I have a four-year term, and I fully intend to serve it.”

Mixed Fed Raises Stock Market Uncertainty

Powell removed the phrase “patient” from guidance. There is no question that markets initially appeared to interpret this as bullish for stocks. However, the Federal Reserve is a democracy, and it will take all members getting on board for a rate cut to happen. The fact things are so divided leaves a sizeable amount of uncertainty moving forward.

Trump May Leverage Fed “Dissent” to Try And Discredit Powell

Dow bulls have been hopeful for a dovish turn from Powell after the ECB’s Draghi signaled he was prepared to cut interest rates . President Trump’s relentless attacks on Powell to cut interest rates will probably resume given the lack of clarification of a rate cut in July.

If Powell continuously faces dissenters, it seems possible the White House could attempt to fashion a “for cause” reason to try and demote the Fed Chair. This is the only legal means  to remove Jerome Powell from his post.

Powell’s FOMC is “closely monitoring” the situation and was not prepared to go all in on signaling a rate cut. This leaves market bulls in a problematic situation.

The Dow looks overbought if there is no stimulus coming, and the more easing that bond traders price in the harder the fall could be on any disappointment. A collapse in yields and a stagnant Dow are an ominous sign for markets moving forward.  A worse development could be any additional assault on Powell  or the independence of the Federal Reserve by the Trump Administration.