Treasury Prices Fall in Shadow of Fed Taper

U.S. Treasuries prices fell on Thursday a day after the Federal Reserve said it would trim its monthly bond-buying program by $10 billion and signaled it might keep its key interest rate extremely low even longer than previously promised.

The market reacted negatively on Wednesday after Chairman Ben Bernanke said the U.S. central bank may continue to reduce purchases steadily, suggesting that quantitative easing could end by around the end of 2014.

"The FOMC decided to cut the pace of its asset purchases to $75 billion a month, but offset this with a qualitative enhancement to the forward guidance," said Goldman Sachs economists in a research note.

The Fed's assessment of the U.S. economic outlook was "somewhat more upbeat" and its statement "slightly hawkish relative to expectations," the economists said.

A day after the Fed's decision, new economic data offered the market little support.

New claims for jobless benefits jumped sharply in the latest week, to 379,000, and the prior week's claims were revised upward. Separately, industry data showed that sales of existing homes slid 4.3 percent in November, hitting a near one-year low. The Philadelphia Fed's regional business activity index showed only an incremental rise.

Even so, the jump in jobless claims should be seen in the context of volatility around the holidays and not as an indication of a sudden deterioration of the labor market, said Ward McCarthy, chief financial economist for Jefferies.

Five-year notes underperformed after Wednesday's poorly bid auction. Seven-year notes, which the Treasury will auction at 1 p.m. (1800 GMT) on Thursday, also underperformed.

"There was talk of Asian real money selling five- and seven-year maturities in decent size vis-a-vis the long-end," said Thomas di Galoma, co-head of fixed-income rates at ED&F Man Capital in New York. "Steepening trades are coming off and forcing the belly of the curve lower in price."

The Fed bought $1.575 billion in Treasuries as part of its bond-buying program aimed at stimulating economic activity.

The Fed on Wednesday, in addition to announcing a reduction in its bond purchases starting in January, said it probably would keep the federal funds rate at zero to 0.25 percent well past the time that the U.S. unemployment rate falls below 6.5 percent, especially if inflation remains below 2 percent.

Benchmark 10-year Treasury notes were down 13/32 in price, their yields rising to 2.94 percent. The 30-year bond price was down a point, leaving its yield at 3.90 percent.

"The Fed has put the market on notice that they fully expect to get out of the asset purchase business, so big picture the market has priced in taper and we've likely sketched out the top of the range for interest rates," said Robert Tipp, chief investment strategist at Prudential Fixed Income, in Newark, New Jersey.

The top of that range for the 10-year Treasury yield is 3 percent, Tipp said.

"We should expect that to hold until we see an upside surprise for growth ... if we do get an upside surprise," he said. "Barring that, I would expect to see rates ease back, not towards the lows we saw last year, but maybe back towards 2.5 percent as the muted economic backdrop and below-target inflation picture sink into the market psyche."

In the near-term, supply could remain a source of pressure on the Treasury market, traders said.

In addition to the $35 billion in five-year debt sold on Wednesday, the Treasury is selling $29 billion in seven-year notes and $16 billion in five-year Treasury inflation-protected securities on Thursday.