Interesting Testimony Today (Not “That” Testimony)

Was anyone watching the congressional hearing testimony from Fed Chair Powell or US Trade Representative Lighthizer? Powell highlights: Policy is “in the range of neutral”. Wow, the turnaround is complete on “where we are”. Remember early October when he spooked markets by saying we are “a long way from neutral”? Note that the Fed Funds rate was 2.25% at that time, speculation was the target neutral rate was somewhere between 3.25-3.50%, so the expectation was for at least 4 more hikes in the next year or two. Now, we are “there” which indicates the Fed feels no urgency to hike and is watching the data (unemployment and inflation). But today also showed a subtle shift in Fed concerns: financial market volatility, not usually a part of the stated Fed mandate. As Bloomberg pointed out, this concern for market stability is reminiscent of the “Greenspan put”. These developments are contributing to overall bullishness in Treasuries, the 10 year T is at 2.67%.  Meanwhile, across the hall, Trade Representative Lighthizer tamped down some of the recent anticipation of an imminent trade deal with China, which was heightened in recent weeks with the extension of the March 1 tarriff deadline and talk of a signing ceremony in the US soon. He indicated hurdles remain, so it may be a while. This “bad news” of course helps the contrarian bond market. Stay tuned. By David R. Pascale, Jr. , Senior Vice President at George Smith Partners

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