GLOBAL MARKETS-Markets mostly flat ahead of Fed decision
* Stock, bonds, FX in tight ranges ahead of Fed policy statement * Fed expected to taper stimulus in modest steps * Perception of hawkishness would hit shares and bonds, aid dollar By Herbert Lash NEW YORK, Sept 18 (Reuters) - The dollar and global equity markets traded near break-even on Wednesday ahead of what is expected to be the first step by the Federal Reserve to wean the world off the easy money it has used to treat the last five years of financial turmoil. Expectations are that the Fed will announce a reduction in its $85 billion in monthly bond purchases, while reassuring investors that a rise in interest rates is still distant, in its policy statement due out at 2 p.m. (1800 GMT). Reuters polls suggest a $10 billion reduction, but recent data has led some in the market to expect less. The uncertainty kept the dollar pinned near a four-week trough against a basket of major currencies, idling at 98.97 yen, or 0.14 percent weaker, and hovering near the week's low against the euro at $1.3357, or flat. After months of speculation about the Fed's intentions, investors were cautious, with equity markets mostly flat. A measure of global equity markets, MSCI's all-country world index , was up 0.09 percent. The Dow Jones industrial average was down 43.24 points, or 0.28 percent, at 15,486.49. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 2.73 points, or 0.16 percent, at 1,702.03. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 3.93 points, or 0.10 percent, at 3,741.77. In Europe, shares ended near five-year highs and trading within their weekly range. The FTSEurofirst 300 of leading European shares closed up 0.46 percent at 1,258.43. Currencies were trading in tight ranges before the Fed statement and a news conference to be held by Chairman Ben Bernanke a half hour later. "From the FX perspective, the start of tapering has already been discounted," said Ken Dickson, investment director of currencies for Standard Life Investments, which oversees $271.2 billion in assets, in New York. "There is a risk of volatility if the Fed doesn't taper," Dickson added. "It is not a good idea for any central bank to settle on something and then pull it off course." Prices for U.S. Treasuries, which have been supported by the Fed's bond buying, dipped. Benchmark 10-year Treasury notes slipped 4/32 in price to yield 2.8645 percent, erasing gains from Tuesday. German bond yields rose ahead of the Fed announcement. German 10-year yields were 3 basis points higher, trading to yield 1.95 percent, while Bund futures closed 35 ticks lower at 137.72. U.S. financial markets were little moved by data that showed groundbreaking for U.S. single-family homes rose in August and permits for future construction hit a five-year high, pointing to resilience in the housing market despite higher mortgage rates. European investors had a few distractions to fill the time before the Fed decision in the shape of minutes from the Bank of England, which showed there were no longer calls for more stimulus. Brent crude rose $1.34 to $109.53 a barrel. U.S. crude for October delivery rose $1.92 to $107.34. DEVIL IN THE DETAIL For the Fed, consensus had congealed around a reduction of $10 billion-$15 billion a month, with all purchases expected to end by the middle of next year. Yet even that cautious timetable would be contingent on the economy performing as well as hoped. With such an outcome largely priced in, it could lead Treasuries and the dollar to rally modestly. A slower tapering would tend to benefit bonds and stocks but hurt the dollar. A bigger reaction would likely come if the Fed pulled back more aggressively, as that would lead the market to price in an earlier start to interest rate rises as well.
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