Updated from 2:59 p.m. ET with market close information.
The broad ended mixed, pulling back from earlier gains that followed the release of the Federal Open Market Committee's statement on Federal Reserve monetary policy, which followed the conclusion of a two-day committee meeting. After initial euphoria over the FOMC's decision to make no changes in policy, investors seemed spooked at a small change in language from the previous statement:
"The Committee recognizes that inflation persistently below its 2 percent objective could pose risks to economic performance, but it anticipates that inflation will move back toward its objective over the medium term."The main features of the Fed's policy to spur U.S. economic growth have been keeping the short-term federal funds rate in a range of zero to 0.25% since late 2008, and the central bank's long-term bond purchases, which have totaled $85 billion per month since September. The FOMC has said repeatedly, and again on Wednesday, that keeping the federal funds rate in the current "exceptionally low range" would be likely be appropriate at least as long as the U.S. unemployment rate remained above 6.5%. The June unemployment rate was 7.6% and the Labor Department will announce the July unemployment rate on Friday. But investors have been anticipating a tapering of the Fed's bond-buying, sending the market yield for 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds to 2.58% Wednesday afternoon from 1.70% at the end of April. Comments from Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke this month seemed to indicate the Fed might curtail bond purchases as early as September. The 10-year yield was as high as 2.609% earlier on Wednesday. Despite investors apparent discomfort among the wording on inflation, the FOMC on Tuesday made no changes in policy, keeping the federal funds rate in its current range, and continuing the same level of bond-buying, while "maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction." This means the Federal Reserve's balance sheet will continue to expand, by a net $85 billion per month, from the securities purchases. UBS economist Maury Harris early on Wednesday in a note to clients predicted that there would be "little change" in the FOMC statement, after members were "likely debating communications strategies" for eventual policy changes. "We still expect the Fed to announce at the September FOMC meeting that they will begin tapering the size of their monthly securities acquisitions," Harris wrote.
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