Stocks fell on Wednesday afternoon, coming off their highs of the day as investors digested the minutes of the Federal Reserve’s most recent meeting.
The 10-year Treasury yield hit its high of the day and the S&P 500 hit its low of the session following the Fed’s update. The meeting minutes showed the Fed discussing reducing its balance sheet shortly after it raises rates later this year.
The blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average turned lower, falling 249 points, or 0.6%. The S&P 500 lost 1.2% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq fell 2.4%.
The Fed is tapering its bond purchases now and has already indicated to the market that it will raise rates soon after it finishes that taper in March. But the market is awaiting indications from the Fed on what it will do with its nearly $9 trillion balance sheet once it’s done increasing it. The minutes show officials to be considering shrinking the balance sheet along with raising rates as another way to remove policy accommodation.
“Almost all participants agreed that it would likely be appropriate to initiate balance sheet runoff at some point after the first increase in the target range for the federal funds rate,” the meeting summary stated.
That runoff is “the key risk for the year,” according to Infrastructure Capital Management CEO Jay Hatfield.
“If the Fed starts shrinking the balance sheet that’s going to be disastrous,” Hatfield said. “I assume that they’re going to keep the balance sheet flat, but it is possible if inflation stays really hot that they start letting the balance sheet run off.”
If that happens, “it’s not just that they’re not injecting liquidity, they’re taking liquidity out,” Hatfield added. “You don’t want to be in the stock market when the Fed is taking liquidity out of it – it’s like being in Coke when Warren Buffett is selling his position.”
The Fed also signaled it could get more aggressive in raising rates.
“Participants generally noted that, given their individual outlooks for the economy, the labor market, and inflation, it may become warranted to increase the federal funds rate sooner or at a faster pace than participants had earlier anticipated,” the minutes stated.
The Fed update pushed the 10-year yield to above 1.70%. It ended last year at 1.51%. Shares in the tech space were hit the hardest as higher rates caused investor to rotate out of speculative stocks with higher valuations.
Mega cap tech stocks were all lower, along with Oracle, Cisco Systems and Intuit. Salesforce dropped 7.7% following a downgrade from UBS. UBS also cut Adobe, sending its shares down 6.5%.
Among chipmakers Advanced Micro Devices fell about 5%. Nvidia and Marvell lost about 4% and 4%, respectively.
“You’ve seen a move of people rotating from tech, high-growth and momentum stocks to value, cyclical and income stocks,” Hatfield said. “It’s the liquidity that’s driving this, not the interest rate, necessarily. When there’s liquidity you go for momentum because the Fed is forcing stocks and bonds to rally. If the Fed is going to pull that liquidity out, you say I want to be in what’s the cheapest, the lowest risk.”
The Federal Reserve said last month it will unwind its monthly bond-buying program at a faster pace, as the central bank tries to grapple with a surge in U.S. inflation.
“U.S. stocks are struggling for direction,” Oanda senior market analyst Edward Moya said. “The first half of the year will be all about a strong U.S. growth outlook that should benefit cyclical stocks, but a sustained pullback with tech stocks is not justified given the Fed hasn’t officially started their interest rate hiking cycle.”
ADP reported Wednesday that private job growth totaled 807,000 in December, more than double the Dow Jones estimate of 375,000. The data in the report covers only through the middle of December, however, which was before the height of the escalation in Covid cases and concerns.
Investors looking for clues on where the economy stands heading into the new year also awaited Friday’s more closely watched nonfarm payrolls count, which is expected to show a gain of 422,000.