Powell Analysis: Fed may cut rates in 2020, but the dollar moves to Trump's tune


  • Fed Chair Powell's prepared remarks are upbeat, but with a readiness to cut.
  • Markets are more concerned about Trump's trade wars. 
  • The dollar may drop on Powell's words, but high volatility is saved for tariffs. 

The central bank is ready to respond to a slowdown – or "material reassessment." That is the critical part from the prepared remarks that Jerome Powell, Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, has prepared for his testimony. The Fed is content with the current state of the US economy and with its policy – but is ready to cut interest rates once again. That may happen in 2020.

Powell has repeated the message he conveyed when the bank cut rates in late October and signaled a pause. The US dollar has edged lower in response – but the lack of novelty in his words has limited the market reaction.

What about raising rates? That seems to be off the table. Back in his post-rate decision press conference, Powell explained that only after inflation surpasses the 2% target – and sustainably so – will the Fed consider hiking. To conclude, a change to the outlook is sufficient for a cut, while only extensive evidence of inflation may trigger a hike. 

Overall, the world's most powerful central bank is set to leave policy unchanged for some time – but is open to cutting rates

Will that continue pressuring the dollar? 

The quick answer is negative. The greenback – and the policy of the Fed – remain ahead of other major central banks which enact looser monetary policy. At this position, the Washington-based institution's mostly neutral stance is dollar-positive. 

Moreover, and as mentioned earlier, Powell is not rocking the boat. However, President Donald Trump – just across the National Mall – may certainly trigger waves in markets. The president threatened China in a speech on Tuesday, disappointing investors that had hoped for an imminent accord.

Uncertainty related to international trade is weighing on manufacturing, investment, and growth. That tops the agenda for investors.

Next USD moves

If talks break up, these trends may continue, with the yen probably remaining the sole winner against the dollar while the euro and pound join the Aussie, kiwi, and loonie in losses. 

And if the world's largest economies strike a deal, the greenback may find itself rising only against the Japanese currency and losing to the rest. 

Trump remains the real game in town, with Powell on the sidelines – partly voluntarily and partly not. 

More: Powell before Congress: Praising the economy and rebutting the President

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