By Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The dollar retreated on Wednesday after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell struck a downbeat tone in congressional testimony, saying trade uncertainties and concerns about the global outlook continued to exert pressure on the U.S. economy.
The greenback hit session lows versus the euro and yen after Powell’s comments, which reinforced expectations the Fed will cut interest rates for the first time in a decade at its next monetary policy meeting later this month.
In prepared remarks to a congressional committee, Powell said the Fed stands ready to “act as appropriate” to sustain a decade-long expansion.
He also contrasted the Fed’s “baseline outlook” of continued U.S. growth against a considerable set of risks – including persistently weak inflation, slower growth in other major economies, and a downturn in business investment driven by uncertainty over just how long the Trump administration’s trade war with China and other countries will last.
“Powell’s semi-annual testimony to Congress indicates that despite the trade truce following the recent G20 meeting and the strength of employment growth in June, the Fed intends to push ahead with a rate cut at the FOMC meeting at the end of this month,” said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist, at Capital Economics.
“We had previously anticipated that those positive developments would convince the Fed to delay that rate cut until September.”
Expectations for a 50-basis-point rate cut at the July meeting have evaporated, but investors still expect a 25 basis-point cut due to weak inflation and worries about growing business fallout from the U.S.-China trade war.
The Fed minutes of the June policy meeting released on Wednesday as well echoed Powell’s comments to Congress.
In their June 18-19 meeting, which introduced the near-term possibility of a rate cut, multiple policymakers said rates should come down to “cushion the effects” of a U.S. trade war and to firm up inflation that is failing to meet the central bank’s 2%-a-year target, according to minutes from that meeting released on Wednesday.
Charlie Ripley, senior investment strategist at Allianz (DE:ALVG) Investment Management said the Fed minutes backed expectations of a near-term rate cut.
“The idea of ‘insurance’ rate cuts may be a difficult proposition for some policy makers to grasp, but markets are signaling that a decline in policy rates is required in order to sustain the current economic expansion,” he added.
Against the yen, the dollar fell 0.4% to 108.43, dropping 0.5% against the Swiss franc to 0.9892 franc <chf=>.</chf=>
The euro, meanwhile, rose 0.4% to $1.1252 (EUR=).
(GRAPHIC – World FX rates in 2019: http://tmsnrt.rs/2egbfVh)