CAMBRIDGE – Global financial markets were stunned when the US Federal Reserve announced on September 18 that it was not ready to begin the widely anticipated reduction in the pace of its “quantitative easing” (QE) program. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said that the Fed would continue its monthly purchases of $85 billion of long-term securities. Understanding the reasons for the Fed’s unexpected change of plans may help to anticipate what is coming next.
After Bernanke announced in May that the Fed intended to “taper” QE, investors began to expect that some reduction in the pace of asset purchases might begin in the early fall. As a result, the interest rate on ten-year Treasury bonds increased by nearly 50 basis points, from 1.66% on May 1 to 2.13% on at the beginning of June. Bernanke’s press conference after the next meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) on June 19 caused a further rise in the ten-year rate, to 2.5% on July 1 and then to 2.92% just before the Fed’s September meeting.