Gold price drops as Powell talks 'gradual' tapering, downplays Evergrande contagion concerns
(Kitco News) The gold market saw its earlier gains reversed as Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell talked about "gradual" tapering while downplaying China's Evergrande contagion effect on the U.S. market.
On Wednesday, the Fed said it may soon start tapering its $120 billion in monthly asset purchases, with central bank officials showing growing support for raising interest rates in 2022.
"If progress continues broadly as expected, the Committee judges that a moderation in the pace of asset purchases may soon be warranted. These asset purchases help foster smooth market functioning and accommodative financial conditions, thereby supporting the flow of credit to households and businesses," the Fed said in a statement.
When clarifying the Fed's stance at a press conference following the Fed statement, Powell indicated that it would be a "very gradual taper," which could conclude in the middle of next year.
Powell also pointed out that the central bank has the freedom to speed up or slow down the tapering process as it sees fit. He added that markets should not expect a rate hike while the Fed is still tapering.
Tapering does depend on substantial further progress made by the U.S. economy. And if the economy continues to advance in line with expectations, the Fed could move ahead with tapering at the next meeting.
"For me, it wouldn't take a knockout [August] employment report. It would take a reasonably good employment report for me to feel like that test is met," Powell said. "I would say that in my own thinking, the test is all but met. I don't personally need to see a very strong employment report. Again it's not to be confused with the test for [rate] liftoff, which is so much higher."
The Fed Chair was also asked about China's Evergrande debt issue, which sparked a rout in the markets earlier this week.
"The Evergrande situation seems very particular to China, which has very high debt for an emerging economy," Powell told reporters. "Corporate defaults in the U.S. are very low right now … You would worry that it would affect global financial conditions through confidence channels."
When asked about the stock-trading policies for Fed officials, Powell replied that they are "not adequate" and the Fed "could do better."
Powell noted that it is reasonable for Fed officials not to own the same assets as Fed buys. "We are going to be looking at all those things," he said.
On the debt ceiling issue, Powell also urged Congress to raise the debt limit in a timely fashion. "It is critically important. Failure to do that is something that could result in severe damage to the economy and financial markets."
He added that no one should assume Fed can protect the economy if the debt ceiling is not raised.
In response to Powell's comments, gold saw some losses as markets interpreted Powell's comments as upbeat when it came to the U.S. economy. At the time of writing, December Comex gold futures were trading at $1,767.20, down 0.62% on the day.