One of the year’s final market catalysts has come and gone.
On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates by 0.25%, the central bank’s third rate hike of the year and the fifth since the financial crisis. The Fed’s benchmark interest rate target is now pegged in a range of 1.25%-1.50%, the highest since October 2008.
On Thursday, investors will move past the Fed with the November report on retail sales, one of the month’s biggest economic data points, set for release in the morning.
And on the earnings side, results are due out from Oracle (ORCL), Adobe (ADBE), and Costco (COST). Costco’s results will be closely watched for signs of any consumer strength or weakness during the holiday shopping season.
Costco earnings will be a major focus for investors on Thursday.
Investors will also be tracking progress of tax reform on Capitol Hill after some lawmakers on Wednesday — including President Donald Trump — suggested House and Senate Republicans were close to reaching a deal on a bill to be put to a vote in both houses.
‘Chair Yellen, what about bitcoin?’
In addition to the Fed’s rate hike serving as perhaps the last big economic event of the year, Wednesday also marked outgoing Fed chair Janet Yellen’s final post-meeting press conference.
And while the decline in the unemployment rate during her tenure, the relative strength of the U.S. economy, and the stock market at record highs all got mentions, since it is 2017 Yellen was of course asked about bitcoin.
No fewer than three times.
Yellen said that while bitcoin still plays a small relative role in the payments system, it is not a stable store of value and a “highly speculative” asset. Yellen also indicated that risks to financial stability due to a decline in the price of bitcoin were “limited,” in her view.
But that the Fed chair — who has perhaps had one of the best runs among recent Fed chairs in terms of accomplishing the central bank’s stated goals — spent some of her final time with reporters talking about bitcoin is a perfect encapsulation of this year. All while no questions were put to Yellen over the Fed’s plans to pare down its balance sheet
Because whether you are an investor, a commentator, a member of the media, or a central banker, the financial markets story for the later part of 2017 has become completely overwhelmed by cryptocurrency mania.
Perhaps in hindsight we will see Yellen’s comments on bitcoin as indicating the end of something like our innocence about digital currencies. Or perhaps it will simply serve as a missed opportunity for the media to ask the world’s foremost central banker about policy.
Either way, worlds collided in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.
Yellen, on her way out of office, was asked about the biggest investing mania we’ve seen in the U.S. in at least a decade. It might mean nothing. Or it could be the start of a new phase in financial market history.
Myles Udland is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @MylesUdland
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