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Investors were anxiously listening today (Wednesday) to see if the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting minutes gave any hints the Fed may engage in a third round of quantitative easing (QE3) to bolster the ailing U.S. economy.
But no such clues were shared.
Last month the Federal Reserve decided to extend Operation Twist, a bond maturity extension program. But many investors wanted a third round of asset buying, or QE3, instead of more twisting.
Immediately following details of the June FOMC meeting, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which had been choppy all day, was little changed. Then came the negative reaction and all three major indexes ticked lower, and the VIX, the "fear index," edged higher. The Dow fell as much as 90.14 points, or 0.7%, to 12,562.98 in afternoon trading.
Though QE3 is not completely out of the question, things need to deteriorate further for the Fed to even consider more bond purchasing as a means of stoking the economy, according to the FOMC meeting minutes.
Just four Fed officials referred to more quantitative easing in their individual forecasts, with two in favor and two considering another round.
Had that FOMC meeting been held today, maybe more officials would have supported a heavier stimulus measure. Since that meeting, fresh data have shown manufacturing is weak and unemployment levels are still elevated – and look to move higher.
In addition, economists have drastically reduced second-quarter growth estimates amid the weaker-than-expected numbers.
This has left scores scratching their heads asking how much worse things need to get before the Fed makes a move.
The minutes also show that several Fed officials want to create "new tools" to ease financial conditions. With little left in their cache to give the economy a much needed boost, "new tools" are warranted, but scarce at best.
FOMC Meeting Minutes Give Few Clues
The Fed admitted that economic expansion remains more tepid than at the start of the year, but there was no mention of Q3.
Team Bernanke did reveal that interest rates will stay at current record levels through at least 2014 and maybe into 2015, and acknowledged that future growth for the economy is waning. Unemployment remains at an unhealthy level at 8.2%, the housing market is still depressed, and Europe's disarray is increasingly weighing on the global economic environment.
But low interest rates have not been the magic bullet the Fed has been hoping for, and have done little to help the economy. While borrowers that can get any money have enjoyed historic low interest rates, savers have seen their income shaved.
And with few places to go for income, many investors are still afraid to venture into the stock market and remain parked on the sidelines.
"The bottom line is that there aren't a lot of investors willing to put money into this market. There's not much to get excited about," Jeff Kleintop, chief market strategist at LPL Financial, told the Associated Press.
If anything has changed with the FOMC's mindset, another chance to look for clues will come next week when Chairman Bernanke goes before Congress to discuss the outlook for monetary policy.
Otherwise we might have to wait, and hope, for the next two-day FOMC meeting July 31-Aug. 1.
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