NEW YORK (AP) -- Financial markets shuddered Wednesday after the Federal Reserve said it could start scaling back its huge economic stimulus program later this year and end it by the middle of 2014.
The reaction by investors -- the Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 200 points and the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to its highest in 15 months -- showed just how much investors have come to depend on the Fed's easy money policies that have helped send the stock market up 141 percent in the past four years.
"Any whiff there's going to be reduction in the (Fed's) ammunition is met with selling," said James Camp, managing director of fixed income at Eagle Asset Management.
The selloff was broad. All 10 sectors in the Standard's & Poor's 500 were down.
The Fed's $85 billion in monthly bond purchases have helped the U.S. economy by keeping long-term interest rates low and encouraging borrowing and investing. Now, it looks like the Fed is closer to ending that program as the U.S. economy improves.
A brighter outlook for the U.S. economy normally would convince people to buy stocks, not sell them. But Talley Leger, a strategist at Macro Vision Research, said investors have become hooked on Fed stimulus and so sold.
"Markets are asking for expansion of already stimulative policies, and they're not getting it," he said. "It's like a drug supplier and an addict."
The stock market drifted lower for most of the day, ahead of a scheduled statement from the Fed and a press conference by Chairman Ben Bernanke.
The Standard & Poor's 500 was down about half a percentage point shortly after the Fed released its statement. Then Bernanke took questions from reporters. In response to one he said that the Fed could scale back its bond purchases later this year, and the selling accelerated.
Bonds and stocks both slumped even though Bernanke said that the central bank would only cut back on its stimulus once the economy had improved sufficiently and was in no hurry to raise rates.
"There is going to be some nervousness as we adjust to a more normal economic environment," said Brad Sorensen, director of market and sector research at Charles Schwab. "Both the stock and bond markets are adjusting to a Federal Reserve that isn't going to have the spigots wide open."
Bond yields spiked as investors anticipated a slowdown in the Fed's purchases.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury note jumped to 2.31 percent, its highest in 15 months. The yield on the note started the day at 2.21 percent.
An index measuring the dollar against six other currencies surged 1 percent. The dollar rose against the Japanese yen, the euro and other currencies as traders anticipated higher U.S. rates.
The S&P 500 index fell 22.88 points, or 1.4 percent, to 1,628.93.
Declines were led by high-dividend stocks like telecommunications and utilities, which are more sensitive to rising interest rates. Investors had bought these stocks for their dividend income when bond yields were at record low levels.
AT&T and Verizon, the stocks with the highest dividends in the Dow, fell the most in the index. Verizon slumped $1.50, or 2.9 percent, to $50.05 and AT&T fell 92 cents, or 2.5 percent, to $35.25.
For weeks, investors have been trying to figure out when the central bank will start to ease back on its bond purchases. They overreacted Wednesday to the possibility of less stimulus, some analysts said. The economy will be strong enough for the Fed to start cutting back this year.
"I'm not really seeing a lot of reason for bonds to be selling off like they have or for the (stock) market to be down," said Scott Wren, a senior equity strategist at Wells Fargo Advisors. "If the market sells off on this, you have to view it as an opportunity," to buy.
The Fed's policy of low interest rates coupled with bond-buying has been a major factor driving stocks higher since the market bottomed out in March 2009. The S&P 500 has gained 14.2 percent this year and has advanced 141 percent since its recession low.
In commodities trading, the price of crude oil fell 20 cents, or 0.2 percent, to $98.24 a barrel. The price of gold rose $7.10, or 0.5 percent, to $1,374 an ounce.
In other U.S. stock trading, the Nasdaq composite fell 38.98 points, or 1.1 percent, to 3,443.20.
- Sprint Nextel fell 32 cents, or 4.4 percent, to $7 after satellite TV operator Dish Network said late Tuesday that it wouldn't submit a revised bid for the wireless carrier.
- Men's Wearhouse fell 43 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $37.04 after the company dismissed its founder and executive chairman George Zimmer. The company also delayed its annual shareholders' meeting, which had been scheduled for Wednesday.
- Adobe jumped $2.42, or 5.6 percent, to $45.78 after the software maker said that its Creative Cloud subscriptions continued to climb in its fiscal second quarter.