Wall St falls on Fed minutes

Evidence that Fed could taper in 'coming months' weighs on US stocks.

United States stocks fell after minutes of the Federal Reserve's October meeting indicated that officials stuck to the view that they might begin winding down bond purchases in the "coming months."

In the wake of the minutes being released, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 58.67 points, or 0.37%, to 15,908.36 points.

The S&P 500-stock index shed 5.51 points, or 0.31%, to 1,782.36 points.

The Nasdaq Composite Index lost 6.83 points, or 0.17%, to 3,924.72 points.

Treasurys fell slightly and the dollar rose.

Markets have made sharp moves in recent months as investors try to determine when the Fed will pare its bond-buying program. But some investors said Wednesday that perceived changes in the timing of the Fed's withdrawal from bond buying, known as "tapering," hasn't changed their outlook.

"The economy's fine, rates will move higher as we move forward," said Will Braman, chief investment officer at Ballentine Partners in Waltham, Mass., which manages $4 billion. The Fed "will taper at some point. Whether it's December or March, it doesn't matter."

But after this year's strong rally, Mr Braman said he has started to look outside of the US, increasing exposure to stocks in Europe and Japan. The S&P 500 is now up 26% this year.

"The US has been singularly the best market," said Mr Braman. "It's probably overpriced, but it's getting closer to fair value, whereas a lot of international markets are still well below fair value."

Economic data gave a boost to stocks in early trading, though declines in overseas markets provided a downbeat backdrop. Better-than-expected US retail sales figures and inventory levels provided a rosy view of growth. Strategists said that lower-than-expected inflation and existing-home sales could also support stocks, as they don't provide extra pressure for the Fed to tighten policy.

The effect of higher rates on the US housing market is "one of the things that keeps the Fed on hold," said Mr O'Rourke.

Still, market reaction was relatively muted.

"The numbers were taken at face value, and everyone shrugged," said Mr Braman.

US retail sales rose 0.4% in October despite last month's government shutdown, according to the Commerce Department. That was well above the expected rise of 0.1%. Total inventories rose at twice the rate economists expected in September, gaining 0.6%, and August's figure of inventory growth was revised higher. The faster stockpiling will boost third-quarter growth.

Existing-home sales fell by more than expected, dropping 3.2% while a drop of 2.6% was forecast, another sign that rising interest rates are weighing on the housing recovery. The consumer-price index, a measure of inflation, fell in October, largely because of a decline in energy prices. The CPI fell 0.1%, while it was expected to remain unchanged. Excluding energy and food prices, it rose 0.1%, in line with expectations.

A speech late Tuesday from Fed chairman Ben Bernanke suggested that the Fed's easy-money policies could remain in place for an extended time. Mr Bernanke said that short-term interest rates may stay low well after the jobless rate falls below 6.5%.

European markets were mixed, with the Stoxx Europe 600 up 0.1%. The index turned sharply higher after a report that the European Central Bank is considering a cut to its deposit rate into negative territory, but then pared much of those gains. The index is up 17% from its low this year.

Asian market benchmarks were mostly lower, though Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index gained 0.2% and China's Shanghai Composite rose 0.6%. Stocks in Hong Kong and China have rallied in recent days after China's leadership introduced a wide range of proposals to eventually loosen some controls on the country's economy.

In corporate news, J.C. Penney shares rallied after the department store reported its latest earnings results. It missed expectations for both profits and sales, but shareholders found signs of progress in the report, as its chief executive reiterated that it expects a rise in same-store sales for the fourth quarter. Shares are still down 52% so far this year.

Lowe's declined after its latest results. The company raised its outlook for full-year earnings but narrowly missed Wall Street's forecast for its quarterly profit. Its shares are up 35% this year.

Yahoo gained after the Internet company said late Tuesday it would raise its share buyback program.

Deere gained after the farming-equipment maker beat analyst estimates for its fiscal fourth-quarter profit and sales.

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