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Fed minutes could spark (more) market volatility

Fed watchers have been expecting a ho-hum set of minutes from the Fed's last meeting Wednesday, but they could be spiced up with some new information on the Fed's post-bond buying strategy.

Two Fed officials spoke during Tuesday's volatile trading, and some traders pinned the action on them, but both hawkish Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser and dovish New York Fed President William Dudley delivered their usual messages.

Dudley, speaking to economists in New York, gave some clues about what could show up in the Fed minutes. He said stopping the Fed's reinvestment of mortgage securities before it raises rates may not be the best strategy, though the FOMC agreed to it in June, 2011. Previously, it was expected the Fed could allow reinvestments to end before rate hikes.

"The balance sheet will be $4.5 trillion when QE ends. Reinvesting the proceeds is what they're doing now. They're just going to continue doing it," said Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at Lindsey Group. But the timing of Dudley's comment interested some strategists who think the Fed could provide more commentary on what was talked about at the last meeting than previously expected.

Even with a triple-digit decline in the Dow, the views of the two Fed officials were otherwise much the same as past commentaries.

The Dow fell 137.55 points, to close at 16,374, and the S&P 500 fell 12 points, to finish at 1,872. In what appeared to be a change in tone Monday for the Nasdaq and Russell 2000 faded quickly. The Russell was down 1.5 percent, to 1,097, and the Nasdaq skidded by 0.7 percent, to 4,096.

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"They said nothing new. Plosser's been a hawk, and he's been saying this for a year," said Boockvar. Boockvar also said he did not believe the Fed speakers moved the market and that it was more keyed in on disappointing retailers' earnings, like Dick's Sporting Goods and Home Depot.

Trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Getty Images
Trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Markets, however, zoomed in on the commentaries while traders also watched what appeared to be big asset reallocation trades out of big stock ETFs, such as SPDR S&P 500 ETF SPY and the iShares Russell 2000 ETF IWM and into Treasurys. Traders pointed to Good Harbor Financial, a large ETF portfolio manager in Chicago.

With stocks down sharply, traders also laid blame on Plosser's comments that the Fed should move sooner to tighten policy and raise rates.

For bond traders, Dudley's comments about keeping easy policy in place and not having a definite timing for liftoff, or raising rates, helped put a bid in bonds. Though players in both markets said there was not much new in the remarks that would justify big moves.

Fed watchers expect to see both the hawks and doves represented in the meeting minutes with some cautious words on the labor market.

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"The main reason the FOMC has been cautious is average hourly earnings at zero (growth) and the participation rate. That's something that hasn't changed , and that's in the price. At this point, what is not in the price—is any discussion of exit strategy beyond tapering. I don't think the market is positioned for that," said Ruggero de'Rossi, vice president and senior portfolio manager, responsible for emerging market fixed income at Federated Investors.

De'Rossi said the Fed could also move markets if it mentions inflation, which shows signs of picking up in recent PPI and CPI reports. "I think what is not in the price is that (Fed Chair Janet) Yellen and if the FOMC would acknowledge the fact that there is some acceleration in inflation, I think it would be a big deal because it would be a little bit counter to what Yellen said in her Congressional testimony," he said.

Dudley, in his remarks, did say he expects inflation to drift higher over the remainder of the year, and he added the Fed's 2-percent inflation target is not a ceiling.

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"They're clearly risking to be behind the curve. The risk then that the fixed income market will have to deal with is when the Fed puts its foot on the accelerator and hikes more aggressively," de'Rossi said. "If you see more of these inflation numbers at 0.3, there is no way to explain that away."

Besides the Fed minutes at 2 p.m. ET, there are a few more Fed speeches. Dudley speaks at 10 a.m. ET at a press briefing on the regional labor market. Yellen gives the commencement speech at New York University's graduation at Yankee stadium at 11:30 am. ET.

Kansas City Fed President Esther George speaks at 12:50 p.m. on the economy and banking. Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota speaks at 1:30 p.m. on monetary policy.

Earnings are expected from Lowe's, Target, Tiffany, PetSmart, American Eagle Outfitters, Booz Allen Hamilton, Eaton Vance and Hormel Foods. L Brands and Williams-Sonoma report after the close.

—By CNBC's Patti Domm.

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  • Patti Domm

    Patti Domm is CNBC Executive Editor, News, responsible for news coverage of the markets and economy.

  • A CNBC reporter since 1990, Bob Pisani covers Wall Street from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

  • CNBC Senior Commodities Correspondent and Personal Finance Correspondent

  • JeeYeon Park is a writer for CNBC.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JeeYeonParkCNBC

  • Rick Santelli joined CNBC Business News as an on-air editor in 1999, reporting live from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade.

  • Senior Producer at CNBC's Breaking News Desk.