By Karen Pierog and Ross Kerber
CHICAGO/BOSTON (Reuters) – Investors are awaiting a pivotal speech by U.S. Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell on Thursday, positioning for rates to be kept lower-for-longer and inflation to potentially run higher.
Powell will speak in online remarks to the Kansas City Fed’s annual economic symposium about the central bank’s framework review, an initiative to explore how monetary policy should adapt to changes in the economy.
Low inflation and interest rates have made the Fed’s conventional tools less powerful than before, and policymakers have been weighing whether to try to offset long periods of weak inflation with periods of higher inflation.
“I think the market is shifting gears and trying to position themselves for the likelihood that as Powell is speaking, that he’ll say something that will lead investors to readjust their inflation expectations upward,” said Jim Barnes, director of fixed income for Bryn Mawr Trust.
Longer-dated treasury yields have moved higher this week as investors positioned themselves for higher inflation expectations, said Barnes.
The benchmark 10-year () yield was at 0.69% while the 30-year () was at 1.40% – both significantly higher than earlier in the month. Yields move inversely to prices and inflation erodes the value of longer-dated bonds.
The Fed’s actions to cut rates, start some bond-buying, and approve massive lending programs have kept bond yields historically low.
Mark Haefele, Chief Investment Officer Global Wealth Management, UBS, wrote that the Fed keeping rates “lower for longer” meant cash and the safest bonds were likely to deliver negative real returns for the foreseeable future.
Steven Englander, a managing director at Standard Chartered (OTC:) Bank said Powell is expected “to convey … reassurance that the commitments to easy money and above 2% inflation should be believed.”
Englander said he saw investors betting on inflation break-evens going higher, with the current level still well below any likely Fed target.
The so-called break-even inflation rate for 10-year Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS)
Meanwhile, the yield on 10-year TIPS (), which are Treasury yields minus expected annual inflation, has dropped from a high so far this year of 0.710% in March to trade around the -1% level in recent days.
Analysts have also been noting for weeks the likelihood that the Fed will extend the duration of its asset buying to add more longer-term assets.
Housing markets and certain types of business investment are driven by long-term interest rates and such a move would seem to lower “both the level and volatility of yields,” wrote Englander.
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