The upshot of the Federal Open Market Committee minutes released today is that the Federal Reserve wants to slow down the pace of asset purchases, but doesn’t want the markets to freak out about it. Since Ben Bernanke’s May testimony before Congress, markets have been anxious about a possible tapering of Fed activity. The Fed is clearly concerned about rising volatility, the sell-offs in emerging markets, and so forth -- but not so concerned as to decisively allay fears. While gross domestic product was weak in the first half of the year, members of the rate-setting committee are still expecting things to pick up in the second half, which means that any tapering plans they had two months ago probably remain in effect.
So instead, they tried to reassure people that any tapering they do will be judicious, done with one eye on inflation, of course, but the other closely watching the economy and the unemployment rate. Nonetheless, stocks are still trading down from their morning levels, because the truth is that no matter how judicious the withdrawal, many traders will be less well off when the easy money ends. Obviously it would be even worse if the Fed jammed on the brakes while the economy was still fragile, but they’d still prefer that the end come later rather than sooner, even if the economy is hunky dory.