Stocks could go crazy later today. Watch for this

Yellen: December rate hike was not a mistake
Yellen: December rate hike was not a mistake

The love affair between the stock market and the Federal Reserve could falter in a few hours.

Extremely low interest rates since the end of 2008 have fueled a massive run up in stocks. It's made a lot of people rich (or richer).

Each time the market has wobbled -- like the massive sell-off at the start of 2016 -- Fed chair Janet Yellen and other key decision makers fan out with soothing words and actions. Despite a much-improved economy since the Great Recession, interest rates have barely budged since then and remain at a mere 0.25% to 0.5%.

No one expects the Fed to hike interest rates Wednesday, but the central bank's statement at 2 p.m. ET has the potential to rattle investors with its read on what's ahead for June -- and beyond.

Investors are clearly waiting for the Fed statement. Despite a slew of terrible earnings reports, especially from tech heavyweights like Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOGL) and Microsoft (MSFT), the Nasdaq is down 1%, but the Dow and S&P 500 have barely budged, trading at very narrow losses and gains.

Related: Will the Fed raise rates before the election?

Yellen will not be doing a press conference, so it all comes down to interpreting the Fed's statement. Here's what to look for:

1. The vote tally. How many dissents in April? Only one committee member -- Esther George, head of the Kansas City Fed -- went against the crowd in March. She wanted to raise rates. If more people join her in April, it's a clear signal that a June rate hike is a very real possibility.

Market reaction: Likely negative if there's an increase in the "raise" camp.

2. How about those foreign and financial risks? Yellen has pinned the Fed's inaction lately on China, Europe and other overseas economies. The March statement includes a very blunt line: "global economic and financial developments continue to pose risks." But a lot of those fears have abated, which could pave the way for a June hike. Goldman Sachs is paying close attention to whether the Fed alters that line or puts language back into the statement referring to a "balance of risks."

Market reaction: Likely negative if the global risks line is toned down.

Related: Stocks haven't been this expensive in 7 years

3. Is the Fed still calling U.S. growth "moderate"? On Friday the world gets to see the first official read of how much the U.S. economy grew in the first quarter of 2016. It's expected to be ugly: likely only 1%, or lower.

In the March statement, the Fed used the word "moderate" three times to talk about the health of the economy and U.S. consumers. For example, the Fed declared that U.S. economic activity "has been expanding at a moderate pace." Lindsey Piegza, chief economist at Stifel, wonders if that language will be downgraded at all to "modest" given some weaker data lately, meaning less of a chance of a June hike.

Market reaction: Likely positive if "moderate" is replaced with "modest."

Related: Helicopter money: central banks' last resort

4. Is the Fed's credibility at stake? -- The Fed has been telling the market to expect "gradual" rate increases. The Fed raised rates a mere quarter point in December. As economist Piegza points out, waiting six months to raise rates in June sounds like a very lenient definition of gradual. The Fed will probably keep the word "gradual" in the April statement, but part of the reason some experts think a June rate hike might have to happen is for the Fed to save face.

Social Surge - What's Trending

Personal Finance

         

CNNMoney Sponsors