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Bonds rise after weak housing data; Fed minutes eyed

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U.S. Treasury yields held in tight ranges on Tuesday, hemmed in as a weaker-than-expected regional manufacturing report and the biggest ever one-month decline in homebuilder confidence nibbled away at confidence in the strength of the U.S. economic recovery.

The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury price gyrated after the New York Federal Reserve's Empire State general business conditions index slowed in February, although a forward-looking component of the index appeared to be more optimistic.

U.S. homebuilder confidence meanwhile plunged by 10 points to 46 in February from 56 in January, the first time since May that the reading was below the key 50 mark. Readings below 50 mean more builders view market conditions as poor than favorable.

(Read more: Traders sift through data in hunt for real economy)

This latest homebuilder sentiment reading has been dampened by the severe winter weather that has shrouded U.S. economic data in uncertainty and led U.S. Federal Reserve officials to view data with some skepticism until at least March.

The spate of weak data in recent weeks is expected to limit the importance of the Federal Reserve's minutes from its January policy meeting due to be released on Wednesday. Fed members are expected to show they are committed to continuing the reduction in the central bank's bond purchase program.

"The backdrop has changed a lot since that meeting, we've got another softish payroll report and we've gotten some other weakish data. I think people are going to have to take what the Fed said and then adjust to what you assume the Fed would change its stance to, given the data,'' said Michael Cloherty, head of U.S. rates strategy at RBC Capital Markets, in New York.

Employers added 113,000 jobs in January, well below economists expectations of 185,000 jobs, while December's jobs gains also came in well below projections.

Benchmark 10-year notes were last up 10/32 in price to yield 2.713 percent, down from 2.745 percent late on Friday. Thirty-year bonds rose 7/32 in price to yield 3.687 percent, down from 3.70 percent.

Bonds also rallied as bond supply eased, after the Treasury last week sold new three-, 10- and 30-year debt as part of its regularly scheduled bond auctions.

Investors will also focus on discussion of forward guidance in the Fed's meeting minutes, with unemployment dropping at a faster rate than expected to a five-year low of 6.6 percent in January.

The Fed previously said that it would not raise interest rates until joblessness fell to at least 6.5 percent, a pledge that policymakers thought would hold until at least mid-2015.

"They seem to be downplaying the 6.5 percent unemployment threshold and profess to have taken more qualitative threshold of employment. Any discussion about how they may retool their forward guidance will be most interesting, to see whether most or some agree these changes will be made,'' said William O'Donnell, an interest rate strategist at RBS Securities in Stamford, Connecticut.

The Fed bought $4.28 billion of Treasuries due in 2018 and 2019 on Tuesday as part of its ongoing purchase program. It will buy between $1 billion and $1.25 billion in bonds due 2036 to 2044 on Wednesday.

Investors will also watch to see if producer price pressures are increasing with the Producer Price Index (PPI) release early on Wednesday.

—By Reuters

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