TREASURIES-U.S. bond prices hold gains after FOMC minutes
* Fed minutes show more talk about future of bond purchases * Stocks fall on rumors of hedge fund selling assets By Richard Leong NEW YORK, Feb 20 (Reuters) - U.S. Treasury debt prices rose on Wednesday, even after records of the Federal Reserve's January meeting showed policymakers discussed the slowing or stopping of Fed bond purchases that are aimed at reducing unemployment. The bond market weakened briefly on the latest minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee, the U.S. central bank's policy-setting group, but then rebounded as stock prices fell on the news, rekindling some safe haven bids for bonds. "Generally, these are more hawkish than the market had expected and show a waning commitment to the QE program," said David Keeble, global head of interest rate strategy in Credit Agricole Corporate & Investment Bank in New York. The U.S. central bank's third round of bond buying, dubbed QE3, has propped up the prices of Treasuries, mortgage-backed securities and other fixed income products. Fears that the Fed might end QE3 before the end of 2013, initially ignited by the minutes of the Fed's December policy meeting, have partly kept benchmark yields near 2 percent. "A number of participants stated that an ongoing evaluation of the efficacy, costs, and risks of asset purchases might well lead the committee to taper or end its purchases before it judged that a substantial improvement in the outlook for the labor market had occurred," the minutes of the Jan. 29-30 Federal Open Market Committee meeting showed. But persistent worries about possible steep federal spending cuts and an uncertain election outcome in Italy have curbed large-scale selling in Treasuries, analysts and traders said. Moreover, some investors believed 10-year Treasury notes were appealing whenever their yield approached 2.05 percent, analysts said. Earlier, Treasuries began the day lower in price but turned around as stock losses deepened, with traders citing rumors in the market that a troubled hedge fund was selling assets. Benchmark 10-year Treasury notes were trading 4/32 higher in price to yield 2.014 percent, down 1.2 basis points from late Tuesday, while 30-year bonds were 4/32 higher to yield 3.202 percent, down from 3.209 percent late on Tuesday. Wall Street stocks added to earlier losses on weaker economic growth from less Fed stimulus. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was 1 percent lower.
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