TREASURIES-U.S. bond prices steady before Fed policy meeting
* Traders brace for possible hints of Fed paring bond purchases
* Low inflation seen enabling Fed to keep rates near zero
* Investors raised longer bond holdings before FOMC -survey
* Fed buys $1.46 bln bonds due 2036-2043
NEW YORK, June 18 (Reuters) - Most U.S. Treasuries prices were little changed on Tuesday in light, choppy trading, as investors awaited the outcome of the Federal Reserve's two-day meeting for signs whether the U.S. central bank might scale back its current stimulus program. The Fed's policy statement, to be released after the close of the meeting on Wednesday afternoon, could affirm remarks by Chairman Ben Bernanke last month that the U.S. central bank may decide to trim the amount of bond purchases in the next few meetings if the economic recovery maintains momentum. "It's very complicated for the Fed," said Guy LeBas, chief fixed income strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia. "On the one hand their policies aren't having a huge impact on economic growth going forward, on the other hand they need to maintain the ability to act in case deflation does occur." The Fed's $85 billion monthly purchases of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities have lowered mortgage rates to support the housing recovery and stoked appetite for stocks and other risky investments. The program has been less successful in creating jobs and snuffing out the risk of deflation - a downward price spiral that can cripple an economy. The Fed bought $1.46 billion in bonds due from February 2036 to February 2043 on Tuesday for its Quantitative Easing 3 or QE3 program. If the Fed on Wednesday signals the likelihood it might buy fewer bonds later this year, analysts said it is critical for policy-makers to tell markets they will continue to support the economy by keeping short-term interest rates near zero even well after it stops buying bonds. Investors will also monitor what Bernanke says at his press conference after the releases of the Fed's policy statement, set for 2 p.m. (1800 GMT) on Wednesday. Reporters will likely press Bernanke not only on the path of monetary policy but also his future at the Fed. U.S. President Barack Obama hinted in a television interview that aired on Monday that he may be looking for a new Fed chief, saying Bernanke has stayed a lot longer than the current chairman had originally planned.
LOW INFLATION OFFERS FED LEEWAY The latest inflation data, some analysts and investors say, should enable Fed policy-makers to keep short-term rates low for a protracted period and perhaps even to stick its current pace of bond purchases into 2014. The government on Tuesday reported the U.S. Consumer Price Index edged 0.1 percent higher in May, which was slightly weaker than what analysts polled by Reuters expected, though price pressures showed signs of stabilizing after a long decline.
"The Fed has the cover it needs to continue with quantitative easing," said James Camp, managing director of fixed income at Eagle Asset Management in St. Petersburg, Florida. The mild inflation data, together with bets the Fed might surprise investors by telegraphing it is committed to its current pace of stimulus at least into year-end, stoked buying of the 30-year bond on Tuesday. A J.P. Morgan Securities survey, released on Tuesday, showed more investors raised their holdings of longer-dated Treasuries heading into the Fed's policy meeting. The share of the firm's bond clients who said on Monday they held more longer-dated U.S. government debt than their benchmarks rose to 19 percent, the highest level in about five months.
In late trading, the 30-year bond was 2/32 higher in price with a yield of 3.347 percent, down 0.3 basis point from late on Monday. Benchmark 10-year Treasuries were flat in price at 96-4/32 with a yield of 2.185 percent. The 10-year yield rose to a session high in the wake of data that showed a 6.8 percent rise in home construction last month, although well below what analysts had forecast. Treasury yields hit 14-month highs last week. Treasury inflation-protected securities were hit especially hard during the bond market sell-off with inflation expectations falling to their weakest levels since last summer. Longer inflation expectations as measured by the yield spread between 10-year TIPS and comparable regular 10-year Treasuries improved 2.08 percent late on Tuesday, up 2.5 basis points from Monday.