In an unusual situation, the Fed’s own benchmark fed funds target rate rose to 2.3% on Tuesday, cresting the target range set when it reduced rates at its last meeting in July. The target range is 2% to 2.25%, and the funds rate was at 2.25% on Monday.
In addition, another rate the Fed watches, the secured overnight financing rate, or SOFR, rocketed higher to 5.25% on Tuesday from 2.43%. That is the median rate for $1.2 trillion in short-term funding transactions that occurred Tuesday. SOFR affects floating rates on about $285 billion outstanding in corporate and other loans, making short-term funding much more expensive.
Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will likely face questions on the issue when he informs the press at 2:30pm ET today, after the central bank’s 0.25% cut Wednesday to range between 1.75% – 2%. Many investors were hoping for more.
“This just doesn’t look good. You set your target. You’re the all-powerful Fed. You’re supposed to control it and you can’t on Fed day. It looks bad. This has been a tough run for Powell,” said Michael Schumacher, director, rate strategy, at Wells Fargo.
A data-fueled Fed could also look at the overall health of the economy and give the markets a head fake on a rate cut. Recent data shows that consumer and business confidence is higher—something that could feed into the Fed’s psyche when positing interest rate policy.
Nonetheless, some analysts still foresee a cut on the horizon.
“I can’t think of another time recently that the Fed had this much of an about-face within a month or a few weeks of their meeting date,” said Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at the Leuthold Group. “I still think they do 25 [basis points], but the case is weak.”
“You could make a very cogent argument that ‘we’re kind of done now,’” Paulsen added. “Most of the time a lot of the drama is taken out of this. But I think there might be quite a lot of drama in that press conference.”
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