The Federal Open Market Committee, or FOMC, is set to announce its latest interest rate decision on Wednesday at 2 p.m. EDT upon the conclusion of its two-day meeting. While this meeting isn't likely to be quite as much of a market event as the last few (barring any big surprises), there's still a high probability of another rate cut, as well as a few other things investors should keep an eye on.
Another interest rate cut is likely
Here's the main reason this meeting of the policy-making arm of the Federal Reserve isn't likely to be a major stock market event: Another rate cut appears to be a virtual certainty.
According to CME Group's FedWatch tool, futures markets are pricing in a 96% chance of a 25-basis point cut in the federal funds rate to a target range of 1.50% to 1.75%. Because of the high perceived probability, it's safe to assume that a rate cut is largely priced into the market already. Of course, if we get a big surprise and the FOMC decides not to cut, it could be another story when it comes to market volatility.
What happens next?
Here's the real question: If the FOMC signals that this might be the last rate cut for a while, we could see the market interpret that in a negative manner and we could see downward pressure. On the other hand, if the market feels that there could be several more rate cuts ahead, it could be a dovish signal and trigger a market rally.
The two things to pay close attention to are the FOMC's statement detailing the rationale behind its interest rate decision and Chairman Jerome Powell's commentary at the post-meeting press conference.
The futures markets are currently pricing in about a 78% chance that the FOMC holds interest rates steady in December and a 19% chance of another cut, with a small chance that rates will end the year with no further cuts at all (including this week). In January it's a bit less clear, with a 38% chance of at least one more rate cut beyond the expected cut this week.
In short, there's not much uncertainty about this FOMC meeting, but there's quite a bit of uncertainty in regards to what happens next. Any clarity in one direction or another could move the market.
No dot plot or economic projections this time
The FOMC meets eight times a year, with interest rate decisions and statements released upon the conclusion of each meeting. However, the committee members' future projections of interest rates, unemployment, GDP growth, and inflation can be just as important when it comes to market-moving news. In fact, the perceived future path of these things is often the primary reason the stock market reacts one way or another after an FOMC meeting.
This isn't going to be one of those meetings. The FOMC's projections are only released four times each year, at every other meeting. They were last released at the conclusion of the September FOMC meeting, and the next version will be released in December. We get a break from the projections in October.
It's not likely to be a major event
To sum it up, the October FOMC meeting isn't likely to have a tremendous impact on the stock market unless there's a major surprise in either the rate decision itself or the FOMC's forward-looking commentary.