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Fed change in the air? Brainard speech has investors on edge

Fed's Lockhart: Conditions warrant 'serious discussion' of hike

Fed officials will have to keep quiet after Monday when it comes to their thoughts about policy, but investors could get plenty to stew over before the day is through.

Fed Governor Lael Brainard will deliver remarks at 1 p.m. EDT, and the market is on edge over what she will say. Considered a close ally of Fed Chair Janet Yellen, Brainard's remarks likely will go a long way toward indicating where the Federal Open Market Committee stands on interest rates.

After today, Fed officials can't give speeches until after the Sept. 20-21 FOMC gathering.

Brainard has gained a reputation as a dove, meaning she is generally in favor of keeping rates low. In fact, remarks she made earlier this year showed she is even more cautious about rate hikes than Yellen.

Whispers have been traveling through the market, though, that her remarks to The Chicago Council on Global Affairs could show a change in mindset. If that turns out to the be case, markets could revolt.

Stocks sold off sharply Friday amid talk of Fed tightening and opened lower Monday ahead of the Brainard speech.

Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart added to the tension Monday morning when he said a rate hike warrants "serious discussion" at the meeting.

Lael Brainard
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

But the market may be working itself up over nothing.

"When a market is quiet, it's susceptible to rumors, whether we're talking about a path to freeze oil production or whether the Fed is going to raise rates in September," said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial. "This may be a market that has too much time on its hands right now."

Indeed, while chatter has focused on a possibly hawkish turn, the market where traders bet on expectations for the U.S. central bank has mostly yawned.

Traders are pricing in just a 21 percent chance of a move at next week's meeting, according to the CME, a number that is down from as high as 30 percent Friday. In fact, the December meeting has just a 54.2 percent chance, or a little better than a coin flip.

"As one of the most dovish FOMC participants, Governor Brainard has the potential to move pricing of a September hike with any hawkish comments," Citigroup economist Dana M. Peterson and others said in a note. "However, this would imply an about-face in her views on monetary policy, which we think is unlikely."