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Global markets mostly flat ahead of Fed decision

Traders work after the closing bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, March 8, 2013. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/Files

By Herbert Lash

NEW YORK (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 super-easy money it has used to treat the last five years of financial turmoil.

Expectations are that the Fed's policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee will trim its $85 billion in monthly bond-buying in an announcement at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT), while reassuring investors an actual rise in interest rates is still distant.

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 98.92 yen, or 0.22 percent weaker, and hovering near the week's low against the euro at $1.3348, off 0.07 percent.

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 0.14 percent.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 35.71 points, or 0.23 percent, at 15,494.02. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 1.85 points, or 0.11 percent, at 1,702.91. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 0.81 points, or 0.02 percent, at 3,746.51.

In Europe, the FTSEurofirst 300 of leading regional shares was up 0.27 percent.

Currencies were trading in tight ranges as investors were unwilling to take fresh positions before the Fed statement and a news conference with 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 dipped, with investors reluctant to take on big bets ahead of the Fed announcement.

Benchmark 10-year Treasury notes slipped 5/32 in price to yield 2.8682 percent, erasing gains from Tuesday.

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 40 cents to $108.57 a barrel, after trading as low as $107.41, the lowest settlement price since August 8. U.S. crude for October delivery rose $1 to $106.42.


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.

The bigger reaction would likely come if the Fed pulled back more aggressively, as that would lead market to price in an earlier start to rate rises as well.

(Reporting by Herbert Lash; Additional reporting by Marc Jones in London; Editing by James Dalgleish)