The New York Fed on Thursday played down the importance of President John Williams' speech earlier in the day that was interpreted by the market as an endorsement of a half-point interest rate cut at the end of the month. "This was an academic speech on 20 years of research. It was not about potential policy actions at the upcoming FOMC meeting," a New York Fed spokesman said. In his remarks, Williams said his research showed that, when interest rates are near zero, a central bank should "act quickly to lower rates at the first sign of economic distress." After his remarks, traders priced in a slightly greater than 50% chance of a half-point rate cut on July 31, up from 34% one day ago.