For years, various actions from the Federal Reserve have been major underpinnings of the stock market. So when the Fed's most recently released minutes revealed further uncertainty about how long its massive quantitative easing operations are likely to remain in place, investors bailed out of stocks, commodities, and other risky assets in favor of Treasury bonds. By the end of the day, the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) closed down 108 points, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite had steeper losses of 1.25% and 1.5%, respectively.
Within the Dow, economically sensitive stocks were hardest hit. Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) fell more than 3% as fears that the favorable conditions that it and its banking peers have enjoyed for years could disappear. Some investors may also have reacted to news that CEO Brian Moynihan got paid $12 million in 2012, although with the bank's stock having doubled last year, it's hard to be too critical of the pay package.
Elsewhere, metals and materials stocks got slammed, with Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold (NYSE:FCX) sinking 6% on a terrible day for commodities. Gold prices plunged $40 per ounce. These days, investors seem to equate any hint that the Fed could raise interest rates with a higher cost of carrying gold, which may lead them to liquidate precious-metals positions in favor of income-producing assets.
Finally, rural telecom Windstream (NASDAQ:WINMQ) fell more than 4% after a downbeat earnings report. The company reported a profit of just $0.02 per share, missing analyst estimates even after adjusting for one-time items as subscriber losses and weakness in its traditional voice and long-distance business continue to mount. On the positive side, though, the company reaffirmed its current dividend of $0.25 per quarter, allaying fears caused by rival CenturyLink (NYSE:LUMN)when it slashed its dividend by roughly 25% last week.