The Fed is about to cut rates for the first time since 2008 as trade war weighs on economic growth


The Fed is about to cut rates for the first time since 2008 as trade war weighs on economic growth

The Fed is expected to cut interest rates for the first time in more than a decade Wednesday, a pre-emptive move as concerns rise about the impact of the trade wars and a slowing global economy. Friday’s July jobs report should show that the U.S. economy is still strong, with 170,000 nonfarm payrolls being added and an extremely low unemployment rate of 3.7%, according to Refinitiv. That follows this past Friday’s report of second -quarter GDP, which grew at a better than expected 2.1% but showed clear signs of impact from tariffs and trade friction. Stocks gained in the past week, with the S&P 500 and Nasdaq hitting new highs, as investors anticipated a Fed rate cut, and also a better-than-expected earnings season. Earnings growth is slightly positive so far this quarter, but that could improve with another big wave of earnings in the week ahead, when nearly a third of the S&P 500 report. Apple, Exxon Mobil, Procter and Gamble, Merck, General Motors and Verizonare among companies reporting. Beyond Meat, the hot IPO with a market cap bigger than a quarter of companies in the S&P 500, reports Monday. Seventy-five percent of companies have beaten estimates so far and 60% beat revenue expectations.

It will be the Fed though that will likely have the most market impact, and strategists are looking for the central bank to signal it is open to future cuts but not necessarily promising them. Economists mostly expect anywhere from one to three rate cuts this year, but there is near consensus that this first cut will be a quarter percentage point. “The market is pricing in a 25 basis point cut,” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist with Prudential Financial. “We already know of two Fed presidents who don’t think we need it, so there’s obviously going to be a discussion, with the strong data. The chairman, who is in the camp that we need to have an insurance cut, is going to make the case that while the economic data are all gaining strength, they are still worried about weakening conditions, due to uncertainty regarding trade and tariffs.” The strains of the trade war and tariffs showed up in a reduction in gross private domestic investment in second quarter GDP of 5.5%, the worst decline in that category since 2015. Within that, exports fell 5.2%. The decline in business investment wiped a full percentage point from the final GDP number.

In the last several weeks, as the Fed meeting edged closer, economic data began to show signs of improvement from a soft patch this winter and spring. Consumers, who comprise 70% of the economy, strengthened in the second quarter, with consumption up 4.3%, its best reading since the fourth quarter of 2017. The Fed “will signal they’re’ going to go on if conditions warrant it. It’s clear the chairman and his cohorts are not looking at incoming data in the sense that they are data dependent. They made it clear they want to inoculate the economy,” Krosby said. Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpoint, said he expects the Fed to cut rates just once and then stop. “They’re not going to say that we’re done. I think it would be too much of a leap for the market. My sense is they’ll leave the door open, but their aim is not going to be locked in for the next meeting. It’s clearly a function of how the data play out,” Stanley said. “I’m just more optimistic than they are about the how things are going to evolve.”

Investors will also be watching for headlines on trade in the coming week, as the U.S. delegation returns to China for the first round of face to face talks since May.