Five years after Lehman's failure nearly toppled the financial system, the Federal Reserve is preparing to take a step back from one of the extraordinary programs it launched to save the economy, a move that has been and could continue to be wrenching for markets.
The Federal Reserve is expected to announce its first move to taper its $85 billion in monthly bond buying when its two-day meeting ends Wednesday. While the Fed is seen curbing bond purchases by an initial $10 to $15 billion — a relative baby step compared to the massive amount of stimulus applied — it sends an important message that the Fed is moving toward a normalization of rates and expecting a more normal economy.
"We have come a long way, and we often forget how far we've come. At the heart of the crisis, people didn't think there was a tomorrow. Now we know, there's a tomorrow. We just don't know how strong it is," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial. "Sometimes the cure has its own dangers and you have to look at those tradeoffs. That's where the Fed is. Is the cure good enough for the risks?"
The Fed's bond buying, which has ballooned its balance sheet to $3.6 trillion, has been criticized for adding too much easy money to the economy and over-inflating the stock market. Just talk of a pullback in the Fed's quantitative easing program prompted a swift move up in Treasury yields, and also mortgage rates. Stocks reacted negatively at first to the higher rates, but the pain across emerging markets was much more intense as capital took flight. U.S. stocks have largely recovered, with the now just about 1.2 percent from its all-time high.