Traders see fading prospects for Fed rate cut

(Reuters) - Traders of U.S. short-term interest rate futures trimmed bets the Federal Reserve would cut rates before the end of the year after Fed Chairman Jerome Powell poured cold water on the idea.

“We think our policy stance is appropriate at the moment; we don’t see a strong case for moving it in either direction,” Powell said in a news conference on Wednesday following the Fed’s two-day meeting, at which it kept rates unchanged.

Powell noted the strength in labor markets, and said he believes that unexpectedly low inflation recently is probably due to “transient” factors that will likely fade, allowing inflation to rise back to the Fed’s 2-percent target.

Traders had earlier piled into more bets on a rate cut after the Fed released its statement, which flagged low inflation.

But Powell’s remarks appeared to mute expectations building in financial markets lately that the Fed might make a preemptive bid to head off lower inflation or a recession by cutting rates, and traders backed off those enhanced bets on a cut.

“We’re comfortable, the committee is comfortable with our current policy stance,” Powell said.

Even after the day’s market gyrations, rate futures showed traders were still banking on a Fed rate cut as early as the central bank’s December meeting.

U.S. President Donald Trump has also kept on the pressure for easier money, saying on Tuesday as the Fed began its meeting that the economy could take off “like a rocket” if the Fed cut rates by a percentage point.

Powell said that if inflation stays persistently below 2 percent, “we would be concerned and we would take it into account” in setting policy.

Pressed on whether that means the Fed would cut rates in response, Powell demurred.

“I can’t really be any more specific than what I’ve said,” he said.

Reporting by Ann Saphir; Editing by Andrea Ricci