Federal Reserve policymakers are expected to vote in favor of cutting the central bank's benchmark target interest rate by at least a quarter-point when their two-day meeting wraps up on Wednesday, even as the U.S. economy continues to defy gravity amid slowing global growth and a dog's breakfast of geopolitical issues.
Analysts are expecting the Fed's voting board, the Federal Open Market Committee, to cut the fed funds target rate to 2% from 2.25% at the conclusion of their meeting on Wednesday as still-slowing global growth, trade tensions and most recently an attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities that sent oil prices shooting higher all lurk over an otherwise sunny U.S. economy.
Even with the unemployment rate near a 50-year low, consumer spending solid and inflation percolating, economists widely expect the Fed, led by Chairman Jerome Powell, to cut benchmark rates for the second time this year as insurance against what many see as an increasingly high wall of worries that could bring down the 10-year-strong U.S. economic expansion.
Fed-watchers also will be paying close attention to what Powell has to say at his press conference following announcement from the Fed at 2 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Expectations are that he will reiterate that the central bank will "act as appropriate" to sustain the expansion of the U.S. economy.
A Tale of Two Economies
A key focus of policy makers has been the U.S. economy's strength amid lackluster growth everywhere else, specifically China and Europe. In China, a tepid response to the government's latest stimulus efforts prompted the central bank to let the yuan depreciate below the 7 mark.
In Europe, meantime, outgoing European Central Bank President Mario Dhragi left a parting gift of cutting benchmark rates and re-introduced quantitative easing to kick start the moribund euro area economy and offset some of the impact of the China-U.S. trade war on member countries like Germany and Italy, which have been hit hard by tariffs.
That has left the Fed as one of few central banks seen as "behind the curve," keeping rates relatively higher than everyone else, which in turn has not only kept the U.S. dollar higher but has also spurred bond investors to push down long-term Treasury yields into negative territory in a sign that they believe official rates need to be lower than they currently are.
"There is continued talk about lower rates from the Fed, and the aggressive move lower in U.S. government bond yields suggests that traders are expecting the Fed to cut rates," said London-based CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson.
A Loose-Thumbed President
Add to the mix a loose-thumbed-tweeting President Trump who has made no bones that he thinks Chairman Powell can and should be doing more to stimulate the U.S. economy, and the chances of the Fed moving this week are fairly high, though some market-watchers including Hewson aren't ruling out the Fed taking a pause "as a way of asserting their independence."
"The numbers would indicate that you don't need to cut; at the same time, the world is cutting, which would make us less competitive, and we don't want to be less competitive," said Jim Cramer, the founder of TheStreet. "I think the president is right: What we really have to do is undo the hikes that shouldn't have happened."
What the Fed spells out in the statement following its decision will be scrutinized just as closely as what it decides on rates. Analysts - and certainly others - are looking for the Fed to keep lowering rates not only to keep the U.S. competitive but to protect the economy from falling into recession - something it hasn't done since 2007.
"The Fed will cut rates on Wednesday but won't signal that more is necessarily on its way," Moody's Analytics said in a commentary this week.
That will annoy at least one vocal Fed critic.
"The United States, because of the Federal Reserve, is paying a MUCH higher Interest Rate than other competing countries," President Donald Trump said in a tweet on Monday. "They can't believe how lucky they are that Jay Powell & the Fed don't have a clue. And now, on top of it all, the Oil hit. Big Interest Rate Drop, Stimulus!"