By Adam Shell and Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY
In a volatile trading session, stocks took a beating asinvestors continue to worry about the timing and scope of a paring backon the Federal Reserve's bond-buying stimulus program.
Stockstook a dive immediately after the 2 p.m. ET release of the minutes fromthe Federal Reserve's last meeting but then quickly recovered and thenplunged all over again late in the session.
In the minutes, Fed policymakers indicated they are still on track to slow thecentral bank's massive stimulus this year and end it in mid-2014, butgave no signal whether the scale-back could begin next month.
TheDow Jones industrial average fell 105.44, or 0.7%, to close at14,897.55. The Dow is now riding a six-session losing streak and closedbelow 15,000 for the first time since July 3. It's the Dow's first six-day drop since July 2012.
TheStandard & Poor's 500 index fell 9.55, or 0.6%, to 1,642.80 and theNasdaq composite index dropped 13.80, or 0.4%, to 3,599.55.
Whilethe Fed minutes did not send a clear message of exactly whenquantitative easing (QE) will start to be pulled back, the kneejerkreaction of stock investors suggest investors expect tapering to beginin September.
Even if the Fed does start to taper in September,one Wall Street expert thinks the stock market will take it in stride,partly because the central bank has telegraphed its intentions to WallStreet.
"If I was a betting man I think they will start in thefall," says Frank Fantozzi, chief investment officer at Barrack YardAdvisors, adding that the Fed will probably ease off the stimulus pedalslowly. "It might be more of a 'Taper Lite.' They will probably startsmall, reducing their current $85 billion in monthly asset purchases by$15 billion" or less. I am confident that the economy will be able tohandle the change."
Treasury yields spiked higher after therelease. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.89%from 2.82% as investors sold bonds.
Wall Street is keeping an eyeon the key 3% level, a yield that hasn't been seen since July 25, 2011.Rising bond yields have also been giving investors pause, as higherborrowing costs on mortgages, for example, and for corporations can slowdown the economy.
"However you want to parse the minutestoday, the take-away is the same: the end of QE is upon us," says AndyBusch, editor of The Busch Update.
As a result, interestrates will continue to "normalize" and move higher. A risk for stocks,Busch adds, is if the rate rise continues to be quick and large, citingthe recent damage to stocks caused by the rapid move up in the yield onthe 10-year Treasury note from 1.63% in early May. If rates continue tospike, it "means stocks don't look so cheap."
TheFederal Reserve has been buying $85 billion a month in governmentsecurities and mortgage-backed bonds in order to help keep interestrates down and spur borrowing and investment. Improvement in the U.S.economy has raised expectations the Fed will begin reducing its monetarystimulus next month.
On Tuesday, the Dow fell slightly to 15,002.99. The S&P 500 added 0.4% to 1,652.35. The Nasdaq rose 0.7% to 3,613.59.
Investorswere also parsing through earnings releases from more Americanretailers. Shares of home improvement retailer Lowe's rose 3.9% after ittopped quarterly earnings forecasts and upped its full-year outlook.But Target shares dipped 3.6% after it provided a downbeat outlook forthe balance of 2013.
Globalmarkets have been shaky this week as traders, worried about a potentialpullback in bond purchases by the Fed, began dumping bonds. Money hasalso flowed out of emerging stock markets, sending the currencies ofcountries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and India sharply lower.
On Wednesday, Indonesia's benchmark index rose 1% after dropping a total of more than 8% on Monday and Tuesday.
Elsewherein Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 index swung between gains and losses formost of the trading session. The benchmark ended 0.2% higher at13,424.733. South Korea's Kospi fell 1.1% to 1,867.46. Hong Kong's HangSeng lost 0.7% to 21,817.73.
Regional benchmarks across Europe mostly declined. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 index was off 1.0% to 6,390.84.
Benchmarkoil for October delivery was down $1.24 to $103.88 per barrel inelectronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.