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Fed Chairman Powell has cost stock-market investors $1.5 trillion in 2018, say JPMorgan analysts

MarketWatch logo MarketWatch 10/6/2018 Mark DeCambre
a close up of a man wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Jerome Powell © Getty Images Jerome Powell

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has exacted a mighty toll from stock market investors this year, according to analysts from JPMorgan Chase & Co.

According to researchers led by quantitative analyst Marko Kolanovic, stocks have suffered around $1.5 trillion in losses following speeches from the Fed’s top dog.

Powell has hosted three news conferences this year following meetings of the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee. Kolanovic & Co. said they were followed by an average decline of 0.44 percentage point in the S&P 500 (SPX)

Other talks and speeches have resulted in an average fall of 0.40 percentage point, with losses coming in five of the past nine prominent speeches or Congressional testimonies he has delivered.

The JPMorgan Chase chart below illustrates the moves, with testimonies represented in red and FOMC news conferences in blue, before and after the start of Powell’s comments:

a close up of a map © Source: JPMorgan Chase & Co.

To be sure, the research team acknowledges that directly attributing a market reaction to Powell’s comments is folly—in other worlds, correlation doesn’t mean causality, as former Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen was known for saying—but the researchers note that there is an uncanny relationship between Fed chief’s remarks and market action.

“While we acknowledge that it is not possible to attribute the market impact of each speech with certainty, simple math indicates that ~$1.5 trillion of U.S. equity market value was lost this year following these speeches,” they wrote in the Wednesday research note.

So, what does JPMorgan think is responsible for Wall Street’s apparent downbeat response to Powell?

There are a few factors.

The fear that the Fed may risk a misstep as it attempts to deftly normalize interest rates from crisis-era levels without capsizing an economy that has been spurred by late-2017 corporate tax cuts and equally buffeted by the threat of escalating trade tensions between the U.S. and China has been among the key reasons for the market’s propensity to jerk lower.

Lately, stocks have been under pressure, highlighted by the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) falling for two straight sessions, coming after it notched its 15th record close on Wednesday. A steady ascent in yields, notably a march in the 10-year Treasury note rate (BX:TMUBMUSD10Y) to 3.23%, around its highest level since 2011, and a firming U.S. dollar, as measured by the ICE U.S. Dollar Index (DXY) has made the road forward bumpy for investors.

Read: 3 reasons why U.S. government bond yields are soaring

Higher yields and a stronger dollar can depress revenues of multinational companies.

JPMorgan analysts put it this way:

Specifically, the equity market likely implies that the Fed is underestimating various risks, and hence is increasing the implied probability of the Fed committing a policy error in the future. A higher probability of a policy error translates into lower equity prices on the news.

So far, the market has tended to grind out new highs against stiff odds but JPMorgan Chase concludes that investors should be attentive because if conditions sour quickly, the Fed may not be able to bail the market out:

“If fundamental investors start questioning the cycle, a technically driven selloff could be more violent and more likely to deliver a knockout punch to the economic cycle. The new microstructure of financial markets would not leave enough time for the Fed to react,” the analysts wrote.

Related video: Why investors shouldn't fear the Fed (provided by Fox Business)

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