Yellen's coming speech a bigger focus for markets than Fed minutes

Minutes from the Fed's last meeting should sound dovish when they are released Wednesday, but markets are already looking ahead to a speech Friday from the central bank's chair, Janet Yellen, for possible new clues on when it could hike rates.

The Fed gave a nod to weather-related weakness in the first quarter after its April meeting, but that statement was also released before a whole batch of disappointing reports including April's retail sales.

LPL Financial economist and strategist John Canally said the key to the central bank minutes, when they are released at 2 p.m. ET, will be what they say about the nature of the first quarter's softness.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
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Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

"Everybody just thinks the minutes are going to be dovish. The minutes always turn out to be hawkish, and then we'll see what Yellen has to say to right the ship," Canally said. "The minutes are a month old and the Fed has a whole month more of data to show the economic weakness was transitory."

Yellen is scheduled to speak Friday at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce Economic Outlook Luncheon at 1 p.m. She is not expected to take questions.

"They are desperate to raise rates this year. I think she'll harp on the usual stuff that (the Fed) is data dependent," said Canally.

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Since the April meeting, the market has pushed back its view on when the Fed will hike interest rates with lower odds on September, and more on January. That speculation, in the fed funds futures market, shifted slightly Tuesday after strong housing starts data showed potential for a construction rebound in the second quarter. Odds went up for a September rate increase.

"I think the key thing that everybody is focused on is trying to get some sense of how close they are to tightening," said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities.

"I don't know that we'll get anything specific but it's been clear in the minutes of the last meeting there are three camps out there. The people that wanted to go yesterday. The people that never wanted to go, and the people who wanted that last piece of data to push them over the edge. They're the ones that eventually are going to swing it to move," he said.

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Stanley said the housing starts, up more than 20 percent, were the first piece of data that confirmed his view of a strong second-quarter rebound.

Treasury yields rose after the strong housing data, with the 10-year yield climbing as high as 2.29 percent. Stocks were mixed as investors waited for the Fed minutes. The Dow finished up 13, at 18,312, a new all-time high. The S&P was off 1 at 2,127, and the Nasdaq fell 8 to 5,070.

Treasury yields were also driven higher as traders hedged around and made room for another whopping $18 billion in corporate issuance. The total for the week so far is $36 billion.

Besides the Fed minutes, there are a number of earnings Wednesday including Lowe's, Burberry, Hormel Foods, Staples, Target, L Brands, NetApp, Williams-Sonoma, American Eagle Outfitters and Eaton Vance.

Government oil and gasoline inventory is also released at 10:30 a.m. ET.

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