September shaping up as Fed's worst nightmare

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Inside the mind of the Fed

For months, Federal Reserve officials have been urging investors to shift their focus from the timing of rate hikes to the path the central bank expects to take toward normalcy.

In effect, they've been trying to quell speculation over whether they vote to move in September, that it really doesn't matter when the rate-hiking cycle begins because it's going to happen slowly no matter what.

That's wrong.

The date for liftoff will matter tremendously, particularly if the central bank's Open Market Committee decides to move in a month that's likely to be a highly volatile one for financial markets. And if we've learned one thing from this supposedly data-dependent Fed, the most important data point of all is how markets react.

September is setting up as a difficult month for a variety of reasons: Expected continued volatility in stocks, weak corporate sales figures and an economy likely to give back at least some of the gains it achieved in the second quarter.

Throw in some fairly daunting historical trends and it probably adds up to a Fed that stays on hold still longer in the midst of an unprecedented nearly seven-year run of zero interest rates.