Fed Chair Powell's remarks this year have cost the stock market $1.5 trillion, JP Morgan says

  • Fed Chairman Jerome Powell's public remarks this year have coincided with stock market drops most of the time.
  • When he delivers post-meeting news conferences, the typical S&P 500 loss is 0.44 percentage point, while his other public comments have come with 0.4 percentage point drops, according to J.P. Morgan.
  • Powell will accelerate his public schedule in 2019 when he starts holding news conferences after every Fed meeting.
Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell reacts at his news conference after the two-day meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) on interest rate policy in Washington, U.S., June 13, 2018
Yuri Gripas | Reuters
Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell reacts at his news conference after the two-day meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) on interest rate policy in Washington, U.S., June 13, 2018

When Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell starts talking, the market starts worrying.

Since the central bank chief took over in February, his public remarks have cost the market dearly — specifically about a $1.5 trillion loss in market cap, according to a J.P. Morgan analysis.

The bank's strategists specifically found that when Powell gives a news conference after a Federal Open Market Committee meeting, the S&P 500 typically drops 0.44 percentage point and has fallen each of the three times he has spoken to the media.

When he delivers congressional testimony or other speeches, the average decline is 0.4 percentage point, with the index falling 5 out of the 9 occasions. Adding up the occasions when Powell has spoken publicly equaled the $1.5 trillion figure.

If the trend persists, it could be worrisome for the market. Powell's public schedule will accelerate in 2019, when he starts hosting news conferences after every meeting rather than just quarterly.

The possible reason for the decline, according to the analysis: Worry that Powell and the Fed by extension aren't understanding the current landscape.

"Specifically, the equity market likely implies that the Fed is underestimating various risks, and hence is increasing the implied probability of the Fed committing a policy error in the future," Marko Kolanovic, global head of quantitative and derivatives strategy, wrote in the report. "A higher probability of a policy error translates into lower equity prices on the news."

Overall, the market has done quite well this year.

The S&P 500 has risen about 9.6 percent, even though the Fed has increased interest rates three times. Powell has repeatedly said that he believes the economic outlook is strong and that this is a good time for the central bank to normalize policy after years of an ultra-accommodative stance.

However, the market hasn't liked what it has heard specifically from him — and neither has President Donald Trump.

Trump has criticized the Fed on several occasions, a move unusual for a president, saying he is worried the Fed's insistence on raising interest rates could cost the economy the substantial momentum it has built up since the 2016 elections.

The J.P. Morgan paper said there appears to be direct causation between Powell's remarks and stocks because the market had taken a discernible change in direction during the days when the Fed chief spoke.

The bank cited three troublesome statements from Powell: That stocks are overvalued, that multiple rate hikes are needed or necessary, and that a stock market "sell-off warrants attention if sustained." Kolanovic said that implies the Fed doesn't understand market structure and may stay on the sidelines too long.

"If fundamental investors start questioning the cycle, a technically driven sell-off could be more violent and more likely to deliver a knock-out punch to the economic cycle," he wrote. "The new microstructure of financial markets would not leave enough time for the Fed to react."

CNBC has contacted the Fed for comment.

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