TREASURIES-U.S. bond prices slip in light pre-Christmas trade

Richard Leong
Tuesday, 24 Dec 2013 | 9:43 AM ET

* Benchmark yields hold close to three-month highs

* Yield curve stabilizes after flattening on Fed tapering

* Durable goods orders grew more than forecast in November

* U.S. bond trading to end early, to close Christmas Day

NEW YORK, Dec 24 (Reuters) - U.S. Treasuries prices fell on Tuesday with benchmark yields hovering near three-month highs as investors trimmed their bond holdings ahead of a shortened session before Christmas. The bond market will stop trading early at 2 p.m. EST (1900 GMT), and will be closed Wednesday. Worries over the timing when the Federal Reserve might raise short-term interest rates after it stops buying bonds have bogged down the market, especially among medium-term issues. A stronger-than-expected report on durable goods orders supported the view the U.S. economy might be gathering some momentum into early 2014, raising the risk the U.S. central bank would accelerate its reduction of bond purchases. The news durables goods rose 3.5 percent last month spurred selling in longer-dated Treasuries, which the Fed has targeted to hold down mortgage rates and other long-term borrowing costs to stimulate the economy. "The path of least resistance right now is lower bond prices and higher yields," said John Brady, managing director of interest rate futures sales at R.J. O'Brien and Associates in Chicago. On light trading volume, benchmark 10-year Treasury notes fell 10/32 in price to yield 2.964 percent, up more than 3 basis points from late on Monday. The 10-year yield was 4 basis points short of the two-year high set in September. Thirty-year bonds declined 21/32 in price, yielding 3.881 percent, up about 4 basis points from late on Monday. The yield gap between five-year and 30-year Treasuries, which is seen as gauge of traders' view on changes in the Fed's interest rate policy and its bond purchase program, widened to 2.16 percent from Monday's 2.15 percent, which was its tightest level since September. A sharp narrowing of the yield differences between medium- and long-dated Treasuries since last week signaled a combination of worries about a rate hike not too long after the Fed ends its purchase program and doubts about the Fed's communication as an effective policy tool. The Fed said last Wednesday it will pare its monthly purchases of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities in January by $10 billion to $75 billion. Through a statement released following a two-day policy meeting, the Fed aimed to mitigate its tapering of the bond purchase program with a commitment to keep short-term rates near zero if unemployment were to stay high and inflation were stuck below its 2 percent target, analysts said. The futures market, however, continued to signal traders' anxiety about the Fed possibly raising policy rates earlier than what it suggested last week. Federal funds futures implied traders are pricing in a 56 percent chance of a rate hike in June 2015, up from 54 percent on Monday and 39 percent a month ago, according to CME Group's FedWatch, which computes traders' expectations of the fed funds rate that the Fed influences through monetary policy. The rise in bond yields has raised home finance costs, reducing mortgage activity in the latest week. The Mortgage Bankers Association said on Tuesday its index on weekly application activity fell 6.3 percent to the lowest level in 13 years as the average interest rate on 30-year mortgages edged up to its highest level in three months.