Financial markets are throwing a little tantrum today.
What's got them all worked up? The minutes of the latest Federal Reserve policy meeting made no promises that the Fed was about to load up the money helicopter for another pass of dumping cash all over the place.
This affront to humanity sent the stock market tumbling immediately, making it seem almost as if the market's rally to multi-year highs had less to do with actual economic growth than with an addiction to Fed stimulus.
At the worst moment for the market this afternoon, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down about 130 points, or about one percent, while the S&P 500 stock index was also down about one percent. Both markets were on track for one of their worst days of the year.
Gold, silver and platinum, which have thrived under a free and easy Fed, fell even harder. Gold at last check was down nearly 2 percent to $1650.40 an ounce.
U.S. Treasury bonds fell, too, as the Fed's minutes disappointed market hopes that Bernanke & Co. would soon launch another program to print money and buy bonds. The 10-year Treasury note recently yielded 2.25 percent, which is still ridiculously low, thanks in part to the Fed still keeping its promise to hold short-term interest rates near zero until sometime around the Second Coming.
The main winner on the day was the U.S. dollar, which cheered the news that the Fed was going to delay another round of money printing at a minimum. The U.S. Dollar Index was recently up nearly one percent on the day.
The funny thing is that the Fed really didn't say much that was all that surprising. It said it wasn't quite ready to launch another round of bond-buying, known as quantitative easing, given recent signs of improvement in the economy and what it called a "temporary" rise in oil and gasoline prices.
It also didn't sound very optimistic about the economy, however, meaning that the door is still open for another round of bond-buying in the near future.
A "return to less than satisfactory hiring, combined with the lack of hard inflationary pressure still keeps mid-year action from the Fed on the table," wrote David Semmens, senior U.S. economist at Standard Chartered.
The market appeared to focus in on one sentence, which seemed to imply that only two Fed policy makers supported another round of QE: "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."
By way of comparison, the previous set of minutes had said "a few members" maybe saw the need for additional stimulus.
That drop, from "a few" to "a couple," in the size of the Coalition of The QE Willing, was enough to blow the market's mind.
As the closing bell approached, however, markets seemed to draw some comfort from a new Goldman Sachs note that told everybody not to worry, QE is still coming -- maybe in June.
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