It's decision time for the US Federal Reserve

Rate drop possible but Fed may hold steady

By Charles Riley, CNN Business
iStock/drnadig

1914: The Federal Reserve Bank of the United States officially opens. The new central bank, and its 12 regional banks, was intended to serve as a formal "lender of last resort" to banks during panics when depositors try to withdraw their…

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Just about everyone predicted the Federal Reserve would cut interest rates on Wednesday. But the market is no longer sure.

According to the CME's FedWatch Tool, which measures what the markets are predicting the Fed will do next, the probability of a quarter percentage point rate cut is only 56%, down from 92% just over a week ago.

Translation: Investors are split on whether the Fed will cut rates.

An even more dramatic half percentage point cut, which was forecast by some this summer, is no longer even considered an option.

The context: This drastic change of heart comes after several turbulent days.

On Monday, oil prices skyrocketed after Saudi Arabian oil facilities were attacked, sparking worries about global oil supply. Higher oil prices can lead to inflation.

The United States and China also agreed to delay tariffs and return to the negotiating table, which removed some uncertainty.

On top of that, investors are keeping a close eye on economic data, and whether it is flashing a warning light for the economy. American consumer spending has so far outweighed a slow down in manufacturing.

Political concerns: President Donald Trump has put the central bank under immense pressure to cut rates. The latest salvo came Monday via social media.

"Will Fed ever get into the game? Dollar strongest EVER!" Trump said on Twitter. "Big Interest Rate Drop, Stimulus!"

 

A crack in the financial markets

 

The New York Federal Reserve is running a special operation aimed at reducing short-term interest rates and easing stress in financial markets.

On Tuesday morning, the NY Fed launched what's called an "overnight repo operation," during which the central bank attempts to ease pressure in markets by purchasing Treasuries and other securities.

More action: Phase two will take place before markets open on Wednesday, when the NY Fed will conduct a second operation aimed at repurchasing up to an additional $75 billion.

The goal is to pump money into the system to keep borrowing costs from creeping above the Fed's target range. The episode demonstrates evidence of emerging strains in financial markets and raises concern that the Fed could be losing its grip on short-term rates.

"The funding markets are clearly stressed," said Guy LeBas, managing director of fixed income strategy at Janney Capital Markets. "It's going to require Fed action."

Kit Juckes, a strategist at Societe Generale, described the situation as a "plumbing disaster."

"This is much more a plumbing problem caused by a sharp change in Treasury supply/demand dynamics than a symptom of fundamental threat to the system or the global economy," he said. "It will be interesting to see what Fed Chairman Jay Powell says about the mess."

 

FedEx profits slip after dropping Amazon as a customer

 

Losing Amazon as a customer is weighing on FedEx's bottom line.

The delivery company posted a slight revenue decline and a 12% drop in operating income for the three months ending August 31 after the closing bell on Tuesday.

Contributing to that decline were global trade disputes, increased costs related to an expansion of FedEx's delivery services and the "loss of business from a large customer," a likely reference to Amazon.

FedEx's stock dropped over 10% in premarket trading.

The conflict: Amazon used FedEx previously to deliver online orders to consumers. But Amazon has in recent years become a serious competitor to FedEx as it builds out its own distribution network.

In June, FedEx said it would not renew its contract with Amazon for air cargo services, saying it would focus instead on other e-commerce companies such as Walmart and Target. It later said it would also stop providing ground delivery services to Amazon.

 

Up next

 

The Fed decision will be announced at 2:00 p.m. ET.

Also today:

 

  • US housing starts and building permits for August at 8:30 a.m. ET.
  • US Energy Information Administration releases a report on crude inventories at 10:30 a.m. ET.

 

Coming tomorrow: Interest rate decisions from the Bank of England and the Bank of Japan.

Coming Friday: Apple's iPhone 11 goes on sale in select countries.

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