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What to make of the Fed

In this image, Powell stands in a suit and speaks while holding papers.
Fed Chair Jerome Powell. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Fed Chair Jerome Powell made clear at the Fed's June policy meeting that the U.S. central bank is ready to cut interest rates — just not yet.

What it means: Powell looks to be facing pressure from all sides — President Trump, other central banks and even members of the Fed's rate-setting committee — to lower interest rates. His press conference suggested that his heart's not in it, but he's ready to go.

  • U.S. stocks rallied for the 3rd straight day and yields on short-dated U.S. Treasury bonds tumbled after the release of the Fed's statement. The dollar weakened against every major currency.

Why it matters: The cut itself is inconsequential, analysts say. With the Fed funds rate still barely above the rate of inflation, cutting it 25 basis points makes little to no difference to the economy.

  • "The real impact is limited, but the sentimental impact is that the Fed stands at the ready to send a lifeline to markets," Brown Brothers Harriman Chief Investment Strategist Scott Clemons told Axios last month.
  • "Even talk of a Fed rate cut sends the message to markets that 'We're watching your back.'"

Without the Fed taking any concrete policy action, the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note has fallen to its lowest in 2 years, dragging U.S. mortgage rates to near record lows.

  • Falling rates in the bond market could help reverse auto loan rates, which recently rose to the highest for new car financing since 2008 and the highest for commercial bank lending since 2011, according to the Fed's data.

What he said: "Uncertainties about this outlook have increased.... The Committee will closely monitor the implications of incoming information … and will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion."

Between the lines: "The Fed left rates on hold but sent a clear message the next move is a cut. The only question now is the timing," analysts at Bank of America-Merrill-Lynch wrote in a note to clients.

Of note: As with the shift away from central bank policy tightening at the beginning of the year, Powell is following, not leading, the charge. European Central Bank President Mario Draghi has cleared the path for both policy pivots globally, as Europe's steadily weakening economy has led deteriorating figures on trade from the U.S.

Go deeper: White House considered "legality of demoting" Fed Chair