Why are stocks dropping? Hint: It involves Jerome Powell

The Federal Reserve has pledged to keep interest rates near rock bottom for a long time to come. But a hazy outlook for an economy deeply scarred by the pandemic is still worrying investors, pushing US stock futures down sharply on Thursday.

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Julia Horowitz
, CNN Business
CNN — The Federal Reserve has pledged to keep interest rates near rock bottom for a long time to come. But a hazy outlook for an economy deeply scarred by the pandemic is still worrying investors, pushing US stock futures down sharply on Thursday.

What's happening: The Fed indicated on Wednesday that it would hold rates at or near zero through 2023 and boosted its economic projections. The central bank now expects a median unemployment rate of 7.6% this year, down from the 9.3% expected in June. GDP — the broadest measure of the economy — is forecast to contract by 3.7%, as opposed to 6.5%.

Even so, it's clear the economy is not out of the woods, Fed Chair Jerome Powell warned.

"Overall activity remains well below its level before the pandemic and the path ahead remains highly uncertain," he said at a press conference.

Those comments are helping drive stocks lower. The S&P 500 is off 1.1% in premarket trading after dropping 0.5% on Wednesday.

Societe Generale strategist Kit Juckes attributes the fall in part to the fact that investors are clamoring for more support, even though the Fed just announced that it would take a more relaxed approach to inflation, allowing for a continuation of loose monetary policy in the months and years ahead.

"It's only been a few weeks since the market cheered the Fed's plan to target average inflation and allow the economy to run hot for a significant time before even thinking about raising rates," Juckes said in a research note Thursday. "Now, the petulant crowd is disappointed that there's nothing new to feed it."

Confusion over the vaccine timeline is also muddying the picture. Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Congress on Wednesday that a Covid-19 vaccine may not be widely distributed until next summer.

President Donald Trump disputed that claim at a news conference later in the day. He said Redfield was "confused" and "made a mistake." Trump insists a vaccine will be available soon, possibly as early as next month.

JPMorgan strategist Mislav Matejka cautioned in a recent note to clients that investors may be too optimistic in their expectations of when a vaccine will arrive.

He noted that while governments have cut some red tape to ease development, a recent ethics pledge from nine drugmakers suggesting they won't seek premature government approval for any Covid-19 vaccines could "potentially delay the roll out."

The fraying US-China relationship could sink these deals

The deteriorating relationship between Washington and Beijing is increasingly creeping into the realm of dealmaking, weighing on investment and threatening to scuttle lucrative tie-ups or force new spin-offs.

The latest: Trump will be briefed Thursday on a proposal from ByteDance to partner with Oracle in the United States. The agreement is designed to resolve the government's national security concerns about the video app TikTok.

But Trump, whose involvement in brokering the deal is extremely unusual, may not give his seal of approval. He told reporters Wednesday he has not seen the specifics of the deal but that "conceptually" he would oppose an arrangement that left ByteDance with majority control.

"Conceptually, I can tell you I don't like that," he said. "If that's the case, I'm not going to be happy with that."

That's not all: The battle between the United States and China over critical technology could also doom a record-breaking deal for British chip designer Arm, my CNN Business colleague Sherisse Pham reports.

China, which needs to give its approval for California-based Nvidia to buy SoftBank-owned Arm for $40 billion, has indicated it may not sign off. An op-ed published this week in The Global Times, a state-run Chinese tabloid, characterized the deal as "disturbing" for the Chinese and European tech companies that rely on the company's advanced chip designs.

"If [Arm] falls into US hands, Chinese technology companies would certainly be placed at a big disadvantage in the market," the op-ed read. Chinese regulators haven't spoken publicly about the deal, but state-run media is often viewed as a barometer of sentiment among senior officials.

Watch this space: The costs of bilateral tensions are rising. US-China capital flows fell to their lowest level in almost a decade in the first half of 2020, according to a new report from consultancy Rhodium Group.

Is Snowflake demand a warning sign?

One of the hottest Wall Street debuts of the year made quite a splash.

Shares of Snowflake, a cloud data warehousing firm that has the backing of Salesforce and Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, more than doubled on their first day of trading in the biggest software IPO ever, my CNN Business colleague Paul R. La Monica reports.

Remember: Snowflake priced its initial public offering Tuesday night at $120 a share — well above the expected range of $100 to $110. But demand was so strong that shares opened Wednesday afternoon at $245 a share and quickly climbed above $300, a 150% gain. The stock pulled back a bit as the day wore on, but still finished the session up nearly 112%.

At its closing price of just under $254, Snowflake is valued at $70 billion.

Why it matters: At that valuation, Snowflake is worth more than established companies in the S&P 500 like Bank of New York Mellon and Hershey.

But even though the company is growing fast amid higher demand for cloud services, it still isn't profitable, raising concerns it's overhyped — especially given that competitors like Amazon and Microsoft loom large.

"There have been some pretty frothy IPOs over the last decade or so, but today we saw what has to be the most out-of-control exuberance for a fresh issuance yet," Bespoke Investment Group told clients Wednesday.

The question on everyone's mind: Is this the early 2000s tech bubble all over again?

Up next

Initial US unemployment claims for the week ending Sept. 12 post at 8:30 a.m. ET, along with housing starts and building permit data for August.

Coming tomorrow: How is consumer spending holding up? New US and UK data will provide some clues.

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