- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 3, 2012

U.S. stocks and Treasury prices dropped Tuesday after Federal Reserve policymakers said they were worried about a slowdown in hiring and appeared to resist buying more bonds to help the economy.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down as much as 133 points after the Fed released minutes of the March meeting of its Open Market Committee, which sets interest rates and monetary policy. It had been down 45 points before the minutes were released.

The Dow bounced back by the close to a decline of 64.94 points, or 0.5 percent, at 13,199.55. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 5.66 points to 1,413.38.

The Nasdaq composite index dropped 6.13 to 3,113.57. It was the fifth loss for the Nasdaq in six trading sessions, but the index remains up almost 20 percent for the year, compared with 12 percent for the S&P.

Utility stocks barely rose. The other nine industry groups that make up the S&P 500 fell, led by energy stocks, which declined about 1 percent as a group.

The Fed minutes showed that policymakers fear hiring could slow if economic growth doesn’t improve. The country added an average of 245,000 jobs per month from December through February, the strongest three months since the Great Recession.

Only two of 10 voting committee members on the Fed committee said they would support another round of bond purchases, and only if the economy weakened significantly.

The minutes did not address the logistics of more bond-buying, troubling traders of stocks and bonds who anticipate more action from the Fed, said John Canally, an economist for LPL Financial.

The release of the minutes reduced demand for government bonds, driving prices down and yields up. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.31 percent from 2.16 percent earlier Tuesday. That was its highest since March 20.

The Fed has embarked on two previous rounds of bond-buying, most recently in August 2010, to drive down long-term interest rates. Low bond yields generally encourage profit-hungry investors to buy stocks.

When it appears that bond-buying is unlikely, demand for Treasurys tends to fall. That’s because the Fed is the biggest player in the market for U.S. government debt. Traders try to front-run the Fed by buying bonds because they believe demand will be strong later.

Among the ripples in the financial markets after the Fed’s announcement:

• The sell-off in Treasurys was broad. The price of the 30-year Treasury bond fell $2.53 per $100 invested, pushing its yield up to 3.44 percent from 3.32 percent before the Fed minutes.

• Gold fell $38 an ounce to $1,642 after trading almost unchanged earlier. The Fed minutes suggested inflation is under control, and traders sometimes buy gold as a hedge when they worry about inflation, driving the price up.

• The dollar rose against the euro, also after being virtually unchanged for most of the day. The euro was down 1.1 cents against the dollar to $1.322 in afternoon trading. Speculation that the Fed won’t act typically helps the dollar. When the Fed buys bonds and other debt securities to keep rates low, that limits the returns available to investors who hold the dollar.

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