It’s all over but the dissection of the Fed statement, due later today, which will follow with a Janet Yellen press conference after the U.S. markets get word of whether the Fed did or did not eliminate the “considerable time” bit from its statement that saw markets go into a tizzy all of Tuesday. At this point the market believes that phrase now may *not* be eliminated, which marks the second reversal in about a week on this point. No matter what, somebody is going to be caught leaning in the wrong direction, but if the latest intelligence is that the Fed’s statement won’t change materially until the October meeting, then the freshest bets are probably in the direction of those betting on that much. So if the statement does cut out that language or modifies it in any way, you could see a selloff in equities, the dollar and bonds.
The meeting also brings with it the update on the Fed’s “central tendencies,” that is, its sure-to-be-incorrect projections on where the economy is going. Given the rebound in the second quarter that seems to have at least been somewhat sustained in the third quarter, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Fed outlook for GDP bumped up for 2014 (currently 2.1 to 2.3 pct) and 2015 (at 3.0 to 3.2 pct – the Fed will predict 3 percent growth for the year-out period until we’re all Morlocks), and the unemployment rate expectations are projected to drop to maybe 5.7 to 5.8 percent from the current 6 to 6.1 percent expected at year-end. Which is all well and good, but it doesn’t give us a good sense, really, of what’s to happen going past the meeting.
What we may be looking for over a longer time frame is an elevation in volatility. Richard Leong, in a story last week, pointed out that the market is starting to see more options-related buying that suggest rising rates in the federal funds and eurodollar markets. In a Tuesday story he noted that various measures of volatility – including the Merrill Lynch MOVE Index, a measure of fixed-income volatility, is at levels not seen since mid-summer. The dollar is showing similar activity, with volatility in the currency markets finally picking up after being stagnant (ok, about as exciting as watching grass grow) for a good long period of months now. Nomura strategists are anticipating a further pickup in volatility post-Fed meeting among currencies, judging by options positioning.
The equity market isn’t quite there yet – the VIX still remains low, trading below 13, but volatility would be expected to pick up in other risk markets if the interest-rate arena begins to exhibit more gyrations. That’s because the moves in that market make it more difficult to fund carry trades to buy other assets – the dollar remains a cheap source of funds right now, but the cost of carrying such bets increases as rates rise and more importantly as the market gets more volatile. Where that leaves investors is unclear – Bank of America/Merrill Lynch notes that credit investors are going with shorter durations (which adjust more quickly as rates rise) and leveraged loans as the best choices over the next 12 months, and are a bit less sunny on high yield, which has the potential for some ups and downs in coming months.