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Markets Now Down

Stocks dropped Wednesday as the Federal Reserve hinted at possible “tapering” in the minutes from its April meeting. That should have put an outsize dent into tech stocks, but that wasn’t the case.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 164 points, or 0.5%, while the S&P 500 declined 0.3%. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite dipped just 3.9 points, or 0.03%.

The Nasdaq’s outperformance was strange. The Federal Reserve released the minutes from its latest meeting at 2 p.m. Wednesday, and they contained a shocker—hints of ‘tapering,’ or reducing the size of, its asset purchases. The language wasn’t specific, simply saying “at some point in upcoming meetings,” and it was highly contingent on the U.S. economy continuing to strengthen. Still, less money going into the bond market would reduce bond prices and lift their yields, and that should put an outsize dent into the valuations of growth and technology companies, and boost the cyclical companies in the Dow.

But that’s not what happened. Just five Dow stocks finished higher Thursday— Salesforce.com (CRM), Intel (INTC), Microsoft (MSFT), Procter & Gamble (PG), and Walmart (WMT)—while the Nasdaq’s bounce was led by Analog Devices (ADI) and Maxim Integrated Products (MXIM), which gained more than 4%.

For tech stocks, it might simply have been a case of “sell the rumor, buy the news.” Fears of inflation—and the tapering that would follow—have caused the Nasdaq to drop nearly 6% from its April all-time high, while the Dow had fallen just 2% from its own record.

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Now that the minutes appear to have confirmed the possibility that the Fed might consider tapering—despite its protestations—investors might have moved on to other things, at least for one day. “It has been talked about, for a while, that once [the] taper announcement hits, the interest rate cloud over Tech would start to clear,” writes Dennis DeBusschere, head of portfolio strategy research at Evercore. “That could help explain the shot higher in Tech or Growth following the taper hint in the Fed minutes.”

It will take more than just a hint of tapering to keep tech moving higher, however. For that to happen, the 10-year Treasury yield, which jumped as high as 1.68% on Wednesday, can’t go much higher. If the yield were to move towards 2%, which wouldn’t be a shocker with the market pricing in 2%-plus inflation over the next five years, tech stocks would likely fall again.

We’ll see what happens when tapering talk really gets started.

Write to Jacob Sonenshine at jacob.sonenshine@barrons.com