The US government is said to have taken out its first loan on 18 September 1789, tapping US banks. Next Tuesday, 218 years on, Wall Street is looking for something like a return of the favour: an interest rate cut from the Federal Reserve (Fed). But investors could already be exhausted by the time the US central bank shows its hand.
The summer credit crunch ate into many bankers’ annual beach holidays. As a payback, the period since the Labour Day holiday on 3 September, while volatile, has so far seen less frenetic activity—in terms of stock trading volumes, say—than occurred through much of July and August.
Fed is a key factor. Few people want to commit themselves before hearing from the US central bank. An interest rate cut of some kind is now widely expected—indeed financial market resilience could depend on it.
Other things matter to markets, too. Traders still care about inflation, Fed’s biggest bugbear until the credit crunch came along. And since the credit trouble had its roots in the subprime mortgage market, people worry about how bad the housing picture in the US really is.
On top of that, financial types are watching Wall Street brokerages, particularly those seen as most exposed to mortgages—notably Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers.
Guess what? Tuesday should shed light on all of these. At 8am, Lehman is slated to be the first Wall Street firm to uncork its third quarter earnings. Half-an-hour later comes the producer price report for August, with consumer prices to follow the next day. And at 1pm, shortly before the Fed statement, the National Association of Home Builders is set to release its September index of home-builder confidence. This hit a 16-year low last month.
That sets Tuesday up as a potential roller coaster, even if Fed is the main act. Next week, the US celebrates the anniversary of its constitution. Market participants are going to need theirs to be strong. Starting the weekend early would be one way to prepare.