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Investments

Will market turmoil drive the Fed to taper the taper?

People want to know if Yellen will stay on target or fire up the helicopter

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The stock market took a beating like Antonio Margarito in 2010, as disappointing earnings, the second taper, fears over euro zone deflation led to heavy selling of stocks and heavy buying of bonds the last week of January.

Income stagnation and poor reports from leading retailers, along with trouble in emerging markets, only added fuel to the fire. The big indexes are set to end January with their first monthly decline since August 2013.

So how much of this volatility comes from a Federal Reserve pulling its thumb off the quantitative easing scale and slowing the easy money gravy train?

On Wednesday, in what is Ben Bernanke’s last week in the big chair, the Fed announced it would continue to reduce its monthly bond purchases, now down to $65 billion.

Some are betting that if the volatility persists, incoming Fed Chair Jane Yellen won’t have the fortitude to stick to the tapering commitment.

"How can a Fed Chairman explain to all who are getting crushed financially that it's better than continued intervention?  Can you imagine Janet Yellen explaining that in her first month in office?  Seems impossible to me," said Ethan Penner, founder of CBRE Capital Partners.

Aside from the impact on domestic markets, and the question of whether the Fed is dragging down the U.S. economy, there is the impact on foreign emerging markets.

The recent sell-off in emerging market currencies in its statement surprised experts. Turkey's central bank doubled then cut interest rates for the free-falling lira. Argentina, Indonesia, South Africa and India have experienced extreme volatility in their currencies, and all benefited from the QE policy.

Lindsey Piegza, chief economist at Sterne Agee, said that it’s not clear if Yellen will stay on course with the taper, or react to short-term pressures.

"The Fed's pathway to unwinding its current policy is still unclear to the market," Piegza said.

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