The stock market calmly set more records in October as the Fed let $10 billion worth of Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities in its portfolio mature without reinvesting the cash.
NEW YORK — The first month is in the books for the Federal Reserve’s yearslong process of pulling the plug on its bond-purchase program, and markets took things in stride.
It’s a massive undertaking for the Fed, whose investment portfolio swelled to nearly $4.5 trillion. Economists credit the program with helping push U.S. stock funds to returns of more than 300 percent since the spring of 2009.
A worry was that the program’s end would mean pain for the stock market, just like it provided succor on the way up. In the past, even the hint of a slowdown in bond purchases was enough to send investors into a “taper tantrum” and cause interest rates to jump.
But the stock market calmly set more records in October, as the Fed let $10 billion worth of Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities in its portfolio mature without reinvesting the cash. The pace will rise to $50 billion per month by the end of next year.
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The bond market was more exciting in October, as the yield on the 10-year Treasury touched its highest level since March. Much of the increase was the result of a strengthening economy, along with anticipation of President Donald Trump’s choice for the next Fed chair.
A lot is riding on whether markets can remain calm as the program further winds down. Studies have suggested it was powerful enough to pull the yield on the 10-year Treasury note down by 1 percentage point as of the end of last year, when it was around 2.47 percent.
Most analysts expect a gradual increase in the 10-year yield from the current 2.35 percent, as the Fed continues with the portfolio unwinding and raises interest rates. But if rates rise faster than expected, say as a result of a burst of inflation, markets could get upset.
A jump in rates would suddenly rob stocks of some of their attractiveness. Even though stocks look expensive relative to history based on how much profits companies are producing, they don’t look expensive when compared against the small interest payments from bonds. If rates jump, investors would likely become much less willing to continue paying such high prices for stocks relative to earnings.