Market Insider

Will the Fed rock the boat again?

Awake the sleeping bond market

Whether they reveal anything new or just nuance, the minutes from the Fed's last meeting will be a major highlight of the trading week when they are released Wednesday afternoon.

Traders are watching to see if the minutes take on a more hawkish tone, particularly after Fed Chair Janet Yellen said during her March 19 press briefing that the Fed could start raising short-term interest rates about six months after ending its bond-buying program, expected in the fall.

"I think that was a mistake," said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Pierpont Securities. Since that comment, some traders have taken it as a misstep by the new Fed chair, and Fed officials have been vague about the timing of their move away from a zero fed funds rate. But the remark did initially jar markets, and immediately sent stocks lower, and bond yields and the dollar higher.

Stanley said he will be most interested in the views of the Federal Open Market Committee members on the changes in the actual language change in the statement.

"For me, I think the most interesting potential news item in the minutes will be the recap of the discussion of the changes in forward guidance," he said. "I'm interested to see if there was any dissent or varying opinions about the lower for longer statement ... was there a contingent of folks that were uncomfortable with the piece of the statement that said they would keep rates well below normal for a long time even after they start to raise them?"

The Fed dropped part of its statement that linked raising rates to an unemployment threshold of 6.5 percent. Unemployment was at 6.7 percent in March.

The minutes have been known to move markets even when they really provide little new information. The Dow closed off about a half percent after the release of both the December and January minutes. "The doves kind of run the show down there, so the statement is more reflective of that point of view, but the minutes are careful to present everyone's views," Stanley said.

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Stocks rose slightly Tuesday, with the Dow gaining 10 to 16,256 and the S&P 500 up 6 at 1,851. The Nasdaq, which has been leading the recent rout, rose 33 points or 0.8 percent, to 4,112.

The momentum stocks that have been pounded in recent weeks attracted buyers. Social media and Internet stocks moved higher, but biotech lagged. The IBB Nasdaq Biotech ETF was down 0.4 percent, while Global X Social Media Index ETF SOCL rose more than 2 percent, and the First Trust Dow Jones Internet ETF FDN gained 1. 8 percent. SOCL is still down nearly 18 percent in the past month, and the FDN is off 12 percent.

A big winner during the shakeout in momentum stocks has been the emerging markets. The iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF EEM was up more than 1.1 percent Tuesday and is up 6.2 percent in the past month. Some individual markets have been even hotter. For instance, the iShares MSCI Brazil Capped ETF is up 17 percent in the same period, but it fell in active trading Tuesday.

Wells Fargo Advisors' chief international strategist, Paul Christopher, has been warning investors to be cautious on emerging markets and commodities. The markets that have benefited have been among the riskiest, he said.

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

"Indonesia, India, Brazil, South Africa. ... These countries are benefiting in the short run because they look cheap, and the markets that we think will do well have done well, and they look expensive. There's still a lot of optimism that you will have reform governments come into place after elections in India and Indonesia," he said. The WisdomTree India Earnings Fund EPI is up about 7.5 percent in the past month, and the iShares India 50 ETF is up 6.5 percent.

India starts voting this week in an election that takes place on nine different dates and will stretch into May, when the last province goes to the polls.

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"They deserve to be cheap, and I think they deserve to be even cheaper," he said. Christopher pointed to the European credit crisis when the markets reacted to Greece's problems by pricing too much risk into Spain and Italy.

"In the end what made contagion was the similarities, not the differences. All these emerging markets have similarities. They all have large domestic credit that has built up especially over the last five years," he said. "You've got too much domestic credit for every dollar of GDP, and now they have to improve their productivity. When they do that, they will return to the attractive trajectory that we see them on for the next 10 years, but it's probably going to take a year or two."

Christopher said he does like Malaysia, Taiwan and South Korea. "We think of those as defensive. They'll outperform the rest of your portfolio," he said.

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Besides the FOMC minutes at 2 p.m. ET, there is wholesale trade at 10 a.m. ET and a $21 billion auction of reopened 10-year notes. The 10 year was yielding 2.68 percent late Tuesday.

Earnings are expected from Constellation Brands, Progressive and MSC Industrial before the bell, and Bed Bath & Beyond and Ruby Tuesday after the close.

Chicago Fed President Charles Evans speaks at 3:30 p.m. ET, and Fed Gov. Daniel Tarullo speaks at 7 p.m.

—By CNBC's Patti Domm.