By Lorcan Roche Kelly
With interest rates already close to zero, and a raft of new measures announced since the last scheduled FOMC meeting, there are low expectations for major action from Federal Reserve policy makers at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time. The publication of the decision will be followed 30 minutes later by a press conference with Chairman Jerome Powell who may give more forward guidance on how long rates will stay at their current low levels. The bond market will be interested in any clarity on the rate of asset purchases, with investors increasingly speculating that the bank will start to engage in yield-curve control.
Tech got a boost from Alphabet Inc. earnings, with shares in the company more than 7% higher on pre-market trading. Later today Microsoft Corp. and Facebook Inc. report with both expected to show they are weathering the lockdown fairly well. Tesla Inc., which also reports after the bell, will try to reassure investors that the more than month-long shutdown of its sole U.S. assembly plan is something the company can quickly recover from. Boeing Co. and General Electric Co. announce results ahead of the open.
The number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. topped 1 million for the first time, with deaths rising to more than 58,000. President Donald Trump said the high number of cases was due to better testing. With a growing number of states moving forward with plans to restart economic activity, arguments over corporate liability in case workers get sick and fiscal policy dominate the political agenda. In China, the origin of the outbreak, efforts to get back to normal see the virus-delayed annual parliamentary session now scheduled for May 22.
Earning season continues to help boost global equities as investors await today’s Fed decision. Overnight, the MSCI Asia Pacific Ex-Japan Index added 0.9% with trading in Tokyo closed as part of the annual Golden Week holiday. In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index was 0.1% higher at 5:50 a.m. with banks and carmakers among the strongest performers after reporting better-than-expected results. S&P 500 futures pointed to a strong open, the 10-year Treasury yield was at 0.592% and gold was broadly unchanged.
While there has already been a lot of evidence of the damage the lockdown has done to the U.S. economy, at 8:30 a.m. this morning we get the advance reading of first-quarter growth, with the median estimate from economists surveyed by Bloomberg forecasting a 3.8% annualized slowdown. That number pales into insignificance when it comes to forecasts for the second quarter, where the worst estimate is for a 65% pace of contraction. March pending home sales data at 10:00 a.m. is likely to show a very substantial slowdown in activity.