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Fed officials and Trump's latest trade threat could decide whether June starts with a market swoon

Key Points
  • Federal Reserve officials speaking at a conference may get the most attention in the coming week after Wall Street expectations for rate cuts ramped up dramatically following President Trump's tariff threat on Mexico.
  • There is also important data coming out, including Friday's May employment report.
  • Investors will be watching for trade developments after Trump's new tariffs created concerns about the U.S. economy and fears that tariffs and trade wars will continue to escalate.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell holds a news conference following the two-day Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) policy meeting in Washington, U.S., March 20, 2019.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Federal Reserve officials speaking at a policy conference may get a lot more attention than usual in the week ahead after President Donald Trump's latest tariff threat against Mexico ramped up expectations for interest rate cuts.

Markets will also start the month of June, which is often flat for markets, coming off a painful 6.6% monthly loss in the S&P 500.

Stocks lost ground in May on worries that the U.S. trade war with China would hurt the global economy and bite into earnings growth. They will begin trading in June with new worries that tariffs on Mexico could hurt the economy and threaten a new trade deal between the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

The coming week has a full calendar of economic data, with the highlight being Friday's May employment report. There are also monthly auto sales and Institute for Supply Management manufacturing data due Monday, and international trade data expected Thursday.

VIDEO9:4809:48
Fighting the two-front trade war

But it is the Fed that should get the most attention, with central bank officials gathering at a much-anticipated conference hosted by the Chicago Fed Tuesday and Wednesday. Fed Chair Jerome Powell will make the opening remarks at the conference, which is about monetary policy strategy, tools and communications. For months, strategists have been hoping the conference will provide insight into how the Fed intends to address sluggish inflation.

Interest in the event is even higher after the market and Fed watchers are increasingly convinced the central bank will now cut rates this year, and maybe more than once. The futures market priced in increasing expectations for two rate cuts after Trump's threat to put tariffs on all Mexican goods if the Mexican government does not stop immigration into the U.S.

After the last Fed meeting, Powell said low inflation appears to be transitory, suggesting the Fed would not have to cut rates, but markets still anticipate a rate cut, and inflation continues to run below the Fed's 2% target.

Michael Gapen, Barclays chief U.S. economists, said investors hoping to hear Fed officials discuss their thinking on current policy could be disappointed. Gapen said the Fed is also about nine months away from its decision on how it will frame inflation, and the conference will be more about academic views on it.

Gapen was one of several Wall Street economists Friday who changed his view on the Fed's rate policy. He said he now sees the Fed cutting the fed funds target rate by 75 basis points in two cuts this year, with the Fed starting at 50 basis points in September. The Fed has said does not foresee any rate cuts this year, nor hikes, and has stressed it is on hold.

Gapen does not expect to hear much from Fed officials at the conference on rates, though investors will be combing through every word looking for policy clues.

"I don't think that's the type of setting where anyone would make a monetary policy comment in advance of an FOMC meeting," he said. The Fed next meets on June 18 and 19.

Gapen said he went from expecting no Fed move to two rate cuts because the trade war with China has become more extended than expected; manufacturing and business spending are weakening, and because of Trump's threat to put tariffs on Mexico if it doesn't control immigrants heading into the U.S. over the southern border.

"It does suggest the administration is willing to pursue multiple fronts. It lowers the bar for tariffs on Europe," he said.

VIDEO1:4601:46
Markets ready to rally before Mexico tariff threat

Interest rates continued to slide Friday, to multi-year lows. The 2-year yield, which most reflects Fed policy, fell sharply and was at 1.93% in late trading. The 10-year yield, at 2.55% in early May, was at 2.13% Friday afternoon. The S&P 500 was down 2.6% for the week, ending its worst week of the year at 2,752.

Sam Stovall, CFRA chief market strategist, said a "May mauling usually leads to a boom in June." Going back to World War II, whenever there was a strong start to the year, the market traditionally fell in May but rose in June. Plus, this year was the third best start through April.

John Augustine, chief investment officer at Huntington Private Bank, said beyond the trade headlines, there are quite a few market catalysts in June.

"June is going to be very event-driven. It's going to be the Fed on June 19. It's going to be OPEC on June 25; it's going be the G-20 on June 29," he said.

He added, "We're going to stay balanced and diversified because we don't know how things are going to come out."

What to Watch

Monday

Monthly auto sales

9:10 a.m. Fed Vice Chair Randal Quarles

9:45 a.m. Manufacturing PMI

10:00 a.m. ISM manufacturing

10:00 a.m. Construction spending

12:40 p.m. Richmond Fed President Tom Barkin

9:45 p.m. San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly

Tuesday

7:00 a.m. Chicago Fed President Charles Evans on CNBC's "Squawk Box" ahead of 2-day conference on 'Monetary Policy Strategy, Tools, and Communication Practices (A Fed Listens Event)'

9:55 a.m. Fed Chair Jerome Powell opening remarks and takes questions at 2-day policy conference, Chicago Fed

10:00 a.m. Factory orders

3:45 p.m. Fed Governor Lael Brainard at Chicago Fed conference

6:45 p.m. Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan, Chicago Fed conference

Wednesday

8:15 a.m. ADP

9:45 a.m. Fed Vice Chair Richard Clarida, Chicago Fed conference

9:45 a.m. Services PMI

9:45 a.m. Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic on housing in Atlanta

10:00 a.m. Fed Governor Michelle Bowman at Senate Banking Committee

10:00 a.m. ISM nonmanufacturing

11:15 a.m. Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren, Chicago Fed conference

2:00 p.m. Beige book

Thursday

7:45 a.m. ECB rate decision

8:30 a.m. Jobless claims

8:30 a.m. International trade

8:30 a.m. Productivity

8:30 a.m. Labor Costs

10:00 a.m. QSS

1:00 p.m. New York Fed President John Williams at CFR

Friday

8:30 a.m. Employment

10:00 a.m. Wholesale trade

3:00 p.m. Consumer credit