TREASURIES-Little changed as investors ponder Fed purchase plans
* Fed minutes may contain clues on duration of Fed stimulus * Fall in housing starts, rise in PPI in Jan have little market impact * Fed buying Treasuries as part of its latest stimulus program By Chris Reese NEW YORK, Feb 20 (Reuters) - U.S. Treasury debt prices were trading little changed on Wednesday, with the market expected to be range-bound before the release of minutes of the Federal Reserve's January policy meeting later in the day. The market will be looking at the minutes for clues on the future of the central bank's bond-buying plans after the Federal Open Market Committee last month left in place its $85 billion-a-month stimulus. The Fed said then it needed to support employment conditions even as it indicated a recent stall in U.S. economic growth was likely temporary. The 10-year yield has been bouncing in a 13 basis point range in the past three weeks and market participants see little catalyst for now to break out of it, with activity subdued before the FOMC minutes due at 1400 EST (1900 GMT). Benchmark 10-year Treasury notes on Wednesday were trading 1/32 lower in price with the yield little changed from late Tuesday at 2.03 percent, while 30-year bonds were 2/32 lower to yield 3.21 percent. The Fed will likely need to keep buying bonds until the end of this year given the still-feeble state of the U.S. labor market, Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday. Economists are split over whether the central bank will stop buying bonds this year. Under the program, the Fed on Wednesday was scheduled to buy $2.75 billion to $3.5 billion of Treasuries maturing May 2020 through February 2023. The Treasuries market saw little impact from data showing groundbreaking on new U.S. homes fell in January although new permits for construction rose to a 4-1/2 year high. The government also said U.S. producer prices rose in January for the first time in four months. "Nothing here is a market mover, and the (producer price index) numbers are basically static," said Steven Baffico, chief executive officer at Four Wood Capital Partners in New York. Apart from what the Fed minutes might contain, investors were mulling the potential economic impact of $85 billion of government spending cuts set to kick in starting March 1, if Republicans and Democrats do not move to avoid the automatic cuts. Optimism was not running high that the government will be able to stave off the so-called "sequestration." "We maintain that if Washington is able to piece together some type of compromise, it will not come until the eleventh hour and frankly we're not at all confident that is even a real possibility at this point," said Ian Lyngen, senior government bond strategist at CRT Capital Group in Stamford, Connecticut.
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