The market’s triumvirate, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, President Donald Trump, and Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, had a big day this past Thursday.
Three forces reign supreme over the market: monetary policy, trade & fiscal policy, and earnings season. The markets continue to take their cue from developments on these three critical issues. While Jerome Powell is chairman of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), he is just one voice on the committee. This week, his colleague and President of the New York Federal Reserve bank, John Williams ostensibly advocated for a 50 basis point cut to the Fed Funds rate:
“Don’t keep your powder dry—that is, move more quickly to add monetary stimulus than you otherwise might. When the ZLB [zero lower bound to rates] is nowhere in view, one can afford to move slowly and take a “wait and see” approach to gain additional clarity about potentially adverse economic developments. But not when interest rates are in the vicinity of the ZLB. In that case, you want to do the opposite, and vaccinate against further ills. When you only have so much stimulus at your disposal, it pays to act quickly to lower rates at the first sign of economic distress.”
It only took a few hours for Williams to walk-back these prepared remarks, through a spokesperson, stating that they were not meant to send a specific policy signal. At this point, it is not a question of if, but of how much the FOMC will cut interest rates during the second half of 2019. Listening to John Williams, arguably the second most influential member of the FOMC, one might have to bet on more than 25 basis points of reduction at the end of July. However, Fed officials who also support lower rates, discounted the need for an immediate 50 basis point cut. Both St. Louis Fed President, James Bullard and Boston Fed President, Eric Rosengren downplayed 50 basis points as an option, with Bullard saying in an interview, “I just don’t think the situation really calls for that aggressive of a move.”
President Trump’s front men on trade are Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. In an interview on CNBC on Thursday, Mnuchin said trade talks were happening at the principal-level, and more in-person meetings are anticipated. Not exactly ground-breaking news, but from the investor’s perspective, at least they are talking. He also made news by stating progress had been made in negotiating a budget deal with Democrats. “I’ve discussed [the debt ceiling and government shutdown] with the leadership of both the House and the Senate,” Mnuchin said. “That’s why I’ve encouraged them to raise the debt ceiling before they leave” for recess on July 26. Market participants are not yet focused on the debt ceiling debate, let’s hope we won’t have to be.
Lastly, the CEO of the largest company in the world by market capitalization, Satya Nadella was able to report a record fiscal year for Microsoft. Microsoft grew revenues by $15 billion during its fiscal year ended June 30th, recorded net income of $36 billion, and returned over $30 billion to shareholders through dividend and share repurchases. The company’s stock, up over 35% year-to-date, is valued at over $1 trillion.
Positive news out of the market’s triumvirate reversed the week-long slide in equities, but stocks still finished lower. On the week, the Dow fell 0.7%, to 27,154 and the S&P500 fell 1.2% to 2,977. The Nasdaq closed 1.2% lower at 8,146 while the 10-year Treasury ended the week at 2.04%.
Earnings season will culminate in two weeks, when the FOMC meets on July 31. All reports will not be as stellar as Microsoft’s, but in-line earnings, a dovish Fed, and status-quo on the fiscal front should be enough to keep equity prices drifting higher for the remainder of the year.