On June 15th, yesterday afternoon, the Federal Reserve released the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) latest Summary of Economic Projections, coupled with their corresponding statement. They revealed that the FOMC had decided to raise the Federal Funds Rate by a whopping 75 basis points (bps), to a range between 1.5-1.75%; such a hike has not been seen since 1994. Upon this news, and ostensibly in response to Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s press conference afterwards, financial markets saw a great deal of volatility. The US Dollar Index (DXY) made gains before closing lower at 104.66, while the Dow Jones oscillated between 30,000 and 31,000 before closing slightly higher. Today DXY continues to sink lower as the Dow abandons yesterday’s gains, falling over 800 points intraday, below 30,000. With this context in mind, let’s unpack this as we learn 4 lessons from FOMC yesterday.
1) The Fed is Becoming Increasingly Hawkish
The 75 bps rate hike decision was somewhat shocking. Though an increasing number of analysts began predicting it earlier this week (with speculation about a supposed leak occurring), such an aggressive measure is rare by contemporary standards. Powell made it clear the bold decision was taken in response to May’s hotter-than-expected inflation data, a disturbing 1% CPI increase month-over-month, or 8.6% year-over-year. Though this had not been the FOMC’s intention prior to this information, Powell emphasized that they are willing to roll with the punches and are open to further aggressive measures so long as inflation remains a serious threat.
While he did convey that they will be planning each hike on a case-by-case basis contingent upon inflation reports, he seemed to be signaling that the Fed’s responsibility for price stability must temporarily take precedent over currently maximizing employment, that it might be maximized long-term. This reflects the tone of the hawkish FOMC statement as well, factoring into the aforementioned economic projections, which anticipate increased unemployment, slower growth, and at least a 3% Federal Funds Rate by the end of 2022. While invariably negative news for the stock market, this is perhaps more ambiguous for USD than it appears at face-value, since a seemingly positive hawkish agenda may be undercut by worsening economic expectations.
2) Powell is Unpredictable (Even to Himself)
A generous interpretation of Powell’s decision and rationale is that he reacts swiftly to the latest information. A more cynical interpretation, which some of the questions at the press conference reflected, is that he is fickle and erratic, indicating one set of monetary policy plans before scrapping them for new ones. After all, today’s hawkish FOMC Chairman is nearly unrecognizable from the COVID-era Powell who was fixated on economic stimulus and near-zero interest rates.
However, to Powell’s credit, he is rather self-aware on this matter. He was transparent yesterday about the fact that he is entirely unsure to what extent each rate hike will cool the overheated US economy, particularly in light of pervasive supply chain issues and externalities due to the invasion of Ukraine. These are holistically unusual circumstances, and the FOMC is confined to conducting an ongoing sequence of interest rate experiments to eventually establish an inflation solution. Though honest, this degree of transparency has likely not helped the public or markets gain trust in the Federal Reserve, and thus may have contributed to today’s securities selloffs.
3) Leave Room for Baffling Market Reactions
Upon reading the statement and watching the press conference, the Fed’s intentions left little room for interpretation in my eyes, striking me as hawkish in a clear-cut fashion. While Powell did leave some wiggle room for less aggressive responses if future CPI reports reflect inflation slowing down, he made it quite clear that more 75 bps hikes are on the table, even likely. Taken altogether, all the information provided yesterday appeared overwhelmingly bullish for USD, and bearish for stocks. While yesterday saw another bout of odd buying pressure for stocks upon the rate hike news, today’s decline is unfortunately a more understandable return to form.
However, DXY is down over 1% today intraday as USD plummets in value against other currencies. Despite today’s news on higher-than-expected US unemployment claims, as well as worsening economic conditions according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, this USD outcome has been surprising. Although economic expectations in the US are becoming gradually bleaker as recession fears grow, I had imagined that demand for USD due to huge rate hikes and persistent inflation would have outweighed selling pressure. While I am still anticipating this to be the case, it is helpful to remember that there is no certainty in the markets, and every bullish or bearish signal must be taken with more than a grain of salt.
4) Technical Analysis Still Matters
One factor that likely aided selling pressure for USD was how much buying pressure it had encountered in the days leading up to FOMC, perhaps in anticipation of the suspected 75 bps hike. This bullish momentum reflected in USD pairs, many cases of which led price action to a key level of support or resistance. Touching these levels, in conjunction with how overbought USD was purely from the standpoint of various technical indicators such as the Relative Strength Index and Keltner Channels, was a good recipe for price action reversing course.
This FOMC news is thus a great case study in (seemingly) straightforward fundamentals not exempting traders from having to conduct technical analysis. Even if foreign exchange markets favor USD bulls in the long run, bullish momentum will still almost certainly pause here and there while bears exhaust themselves. If this is the case, such a pause taking place at the intersection between key support/resistance levels and big central bank news was the perfect point to do so.