Fed meets amid uncertain demand for Treasurys

U.S. bonds

Kai Ryssdal: The Federal Reserve met today on interest rates. No change, as expected. They took a good couple of paragraphs to say so, in the official written statement that comes out at the end of every Fed meeting. Bernanke and Co. do plan, as promised, to keep buying up Treasury bonds through the end of June. What happens after that, however, is the really big question mark, given what's been happening around the world.

Our senior business correspondent Bob Moon reports on some new worries foreigners could be losing their appetite for American debt.


Bob Moon: Today's statement from the Fed called attention to a significant rise in commodity prices and a sharp run-up in the cost of oil. That underscores the pressure on the Fed to stop buying U.S. bonds -- a policy that many view as inflationary. Also today came word that China cut its holding of U.S. debt for the third straight month in January. Now what happens if the Japanese start cashing in their U.S. debt to fund their disaster recovery bill?

Marilyn Cohen watches the bond market for Envision Capital Management.

Marilyn Cohen: When you have the largest players that belong on the field starting to leave the field -- Japan, China -- we're going to have to entice other buyers, and the only way you do that is with higher interest rates.

But to build on that metaphor, the Fed could be viewed as the marching band that "refused to yield," as the song says. Investment adviser Axel Merk thinks there's an increasing chance the Fed will stay on the field, to signal its determination to keep interest rates low.

Axel Merk: As these headwinds intensify, I would not be surprised, if anything, that we'll be easing further down the road rather than tightening.

Even though Merk believes that course, as he puts it, is "playing with fire" -- an inflationary fire in the future.

But of course, nobody knows what the future will bring. And at Jefferies & Company, chief financial economist Ward McCarthy remains optimistic that China, Japan and other foreign countries will keep being attracted to U.S. debt.

Ward McCarthy: Especially in this uncertain environment, I think they'll continue to find Treasurys to be a safest place to be, even if rates are lower than they would like.

It's clearly something the Fed, and the rest of us, will need to keep watching closely.

I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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