The Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 65 points, or 0.5%, to close at 13,199. The blue-chip index was off by more than 130 points at its session low.
The dollar index, meanwhile, gained 0.7% to $79.37.Investors had been expecting the minutes to show a stronger bias towards additional quantitative easing after recent speeches by various Fed officials, including Chairman Ben Bernanke, indicated that the loose money policy would continue. The central bank's current bond-buying program, known as Operation Twist, which involves selling bonds nearing expiration and using the proceeds to buy longer-term ones, finishes in June. Bernanke has sent mixed signals of late, acknowledging improvement in the economy, but maintaining that the employment picture is still problematic and arguing in favor of continued accommodative monetary policy. Tuesday's minutes struck a measured tone about further easing with the committee saying it was "prepared to adjust the size and composition of its securities holdings as appropriate to promote a stronger economic recovery in a context of price stability." There was also a change in the language describing the circumstances that might merit QE3. "A couple of members indicated that the initiation of additional stimulus could become necessary if the economy lost momentum or if inflation seemed likely to remain below its mandate consistent rate of 2 percent over the medium run," the statement said. That was a switch from the minutes of the Jan. 24-25 meeting when the FOMC said: "A few members observed that, in their judgment, current and prospective economic conditions--including elevated unemployment and inflation at or below the Committee's objective-- could warrant the initiation of additional securities purchases before long." The bond market sold off following the release of the minutes with the 10-year Treasury note last down 30/32, raising the yield to 2.301%. Breadth within the Dow was negative with 27 of the index's 30 components moving lower.Cisco (CSCO), JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Bank of America (BAC) and Hewlett Packard (HPQ) were among the biggest percentage decliners, McDonalds (MCD), Merck (MRK) and American Express (AXP) were the only blue-chip names that finished in positive territory. In other economic data, factory orders for February came in up 1.3%, just shy of the consensus estimate, according to Briefing.com, for an increase of 1.4%. January's decline was also revised to 1.1% from a previously reported 1%. The auto industry is also reporting its vehicle sales for the month of March. Thirty-eight analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters have forecast an annualized sales rate of 14.75 million vehicles, up from 13.1 million a year earlier. Individual companies are already out with their numbers though. General Motors (GM) said sales increased 12% last month, led by demand for small and compact cars. Shares fell 4.5% at $25.54. Shares of Ford (F) ticked up 0.1% to $12.64 after it said vehicle sales rose 5%. Chrysler reported a 34% rise in sales in March, its strongest performance since the first quarter of 2008. Overseas, Asian markets closed on a mixed note. Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 1.3% while the Nikkei Average in Japan gave up 0.6%. European markets sold off on Tuesday with Germany's DAX and London's FTSE shedding 1% and 0.6% respectively on Tuesday. The Spanish government presented its 2012 budget, featuring deep cuts. The new austerity measures could compound problems for the country's declining economy, which is expected to contract 1.7% this year. In other corporate news, beer maker Molson Coors Brewing (TAP) agreed to acquire Europe's StarBev for $3.54 billion. The acquisition is expected to be funded by cash, debt and convertible debt and is likely to generate $50 million of pre-tax operational synergies by 2015, the company said. Molson shares dropped 5.4% at $43.17. Activist investor Carl Icahn is moving closer to winning a $30 a share bid for refiner CVR Energy (CVI) after he announced that 55% of outstanding shareholders have tendered their shares to his hostile campaign. Shares were surging 5.6% at $28.73. Apple (AAPL) was again riding a wave of positive sentiment from Wall Street's sell side on Tuesday. The shares gained 1.7% to $629.32 after hitting another all-time high of $632.31 in intraday action, after Piper Jaffray lifted its price target on the stock to $910 from $718.
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