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Hey, There’s A Fed Announcement Today! Will Markets Notice?

By:

Chief Strategist at Interactive Brokers

Market pundits spend much of their time figuring out which set of events will form a bullish narrative for investors.  If this week’s reaction to election results teaches us anything, it is that bullish investors can fit any market narrative to suit their purposes.

Heading into Election Day, markets were becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea of a “Blue Wave” – a Democratic sweep that would be likely to result in massive stimulus.  It seemed odd to me that markets would openly root for an outcome that could lead to higher taxes, but markets focused on potential rewards while overlooking potential risks.  In other words, greed outweighed fear.

The scariest outcome for markets was believed to be a razor thin election result that was likely to be challenged.  That is exactly what we got.  The race is still too close to call and the President is threatening a barrage of lawsuits to challenge vote counting and procedures.  Yet markets have chosen to focus on the notion that potential Congressional gridlock is likely to keep taxes stable, remove the threat of regulation from huge tech stocks, and force the Federal Reserve to remain extraordinarily accommodative.  After a 7.5% rally so far this week, it is fair to say that greed outweighed fear.  Again.

Federal Reserve Chairman Powell will be holding a press conference at the conclusion of a 2 day Fed meeting this afternoon.  That comes amidst the market’s current post-election party mood.  Yet one of Mr. Powell’s predecessors, William McChesney Martin, once famously stated that the job of the Fed is “to take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going.”  We will learn later today whether Mr. Powell is as much of a party-pooper as Mr. Martin.

Mr. Powell has to walk a fine line this afternoon.  He and his colleagues have been quite clear that the Fed would prefer some fiscal stimulus to aid their efforts to boost the economy.  With so little clarity about the coming political landscape, it is hard to imagine him taking a strident position in one direction or another.  It seems most logical to expect talk about staying the course and Fed vigilance, and a strident avoidance of anything political.  Will that be enough to keep the party going?

Finally consider the market’s reaction to each of this year’s regularly scheduled Federal Reserve announcements.  I think you will notice a distinct patter in the immediate aftermath of the press conferences. 

(I excluded the special announcements that were designed specifically to rescue plunging markets.  Those efforts worked as planned) 

Consult the charts below.

Announcement date: January 29, 2020

Announcement Date: April 29th, 2020

Announcement Date: June 10th, 2020

Announcement Date: July 29th, 2020

Announcement Date: September 16th, 2020

Source for all charts: Bloomberg

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