Stocks tumbled last week as investors reconsidered their interest rate expectations after Fed Chair Powell’s Congressional testimony that rates may need to go higher. Stocks also were rattled when a west coast bank was placed into receivership on Friday following a run on deposits.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 4.44%, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 lost 4.55%. The Nasdaq Composite index fell 4.71% for the week. The MSCI EAFE index, which tracks developed overseas stock markets, slipped 0.37%.1,2,3
Rate Fears, Bank Scare
Congressional testimony on Tuesday by Fed Chair Jerome Powell that interest rates may require a higher increase faster than planned unnerved investors, dimming the hopes of any pause in rate hikes this summer. After stabilizing the following day, stocks trended lower as the financial sector came under pressure. The lower move was triggered by a specialty bank's liquidity issues, though regional and money center banks could not escape the selling.
Labor market strength in a Friday report exacerbated rate-hike anxieties, though cooling wage gains balanced an above-consensus new jobs number. Markets appeared to take the employment report in stride but fell on worries arising from the shutdown of a tech-centric bank.4
Powell’s Congressional Testimony
Fed Chair Powell last week testified on Capitol Hill during which he acknowledged that the economy was running hotter than he had expected. He said that labor market strength and stubbornly elevated inflation may require the Fed to raise rates quicker than anticipated and above levels previously contemplated.
The market did not respond well to Powell’s change of tone. Many now see the potential of a 0.50% rate hike coming out of the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) March 21-22 meeting instead of the expected increase of 0.25%. Powell did say that the FOMC would consider the monthly employment report released last Friday and upcoming inflation reports before arriving at a decision.
Footnotes and Sources
2. The Wall Street Journal, March 10, 2023
3. The Wall Street Journal, March 10, 2023
4. The Wall Street Journal, March 10, 2023
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