Federal Reserve Jerome Powell testifies during a Senate Banking Committee hearing on “The Quarterly CARES Act Report to Congress” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 1, 2020.
Susan Walsh | Reuters
Rising bond yields and accompanying inflation fears are adding a level of drama to Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell‘s appearance this week before Congress.
The central bank chair is slated to address Senate and House panels on successive days as part of mandated semiannual updates on monetary policy.
Normally routine affairs, recent financial market tumult and concerns about how the Fed may react have investors paying a bit more close attention than usual to the hearings Tuesday and Wednesday.
“This is one of the more interesting episodes in which a Fed chair has had to testify,” said Nathan Sheets, chief economist at PGIM Fixed Income. “Sometimes we say, ‘ho hum, no news.’ This is going to be news. He’s really caught between a rock and a hard place.”
What’s got the market’s attention recently has been a pickup in government bond yields, particularly further out on the curve.
While the 2-year is unchanged for 2021, the 5-year has risen nearly a quarter percentage point as of Friday’s market close while the benchmark 10-year note has seen its yield jump 41 basis points to 1.34%, an area where it hasn’t been since around the same time in 2020, before the worst of the pandemic struck.
The 30-year bond yield has surged even more, leaping nearly half a point this year to 2.14%.
Powell’s dilemma is this: Rising bond yields could be signaling the reflation of the economy that the Fed has been pushing and are therefore higher for good reasons. However, should the trend get out of control, the Fed then might have to tighten policy faster than the market expects, offsetting some of the good that has come with the burst in yields.
Complicating the matter is that markets also might not like it if Powell is overly complacent.
“If this testimony was behind closed doors, I think Jay Powell would be quite pleased with what he sees in the economy and the markets,” Sheets said, using the Fed chair’s nickname. “But given that it’s public, he’s got to be careful. If he’s too sanguine about the rise in rates, the markets are going to take that as a significant green light for rates to rip higher.”
“The Fed is comfortable with an organic rise in rates reflecting shifts in views on growth and inflation,” he added. “But I think the Fed also wants to be careful that it doesn’t create and amplify a self-sustaining dynamic that pushes rates higher for other reasons.”
Those “other reasons” primarily would be fears that the economy could overheat.
The Fed has run historically loose policy for the past year, dropping its benchmark borrowing rate to near zero and buying at least $120 billion of bonds each month. That’s on top of a series of since-expired lending and liquidity programs implemented in the early days of the Covid-19 crisis.
Go to the news source: The market is getting nervous about Powell’s testimony this week