Markets focused on Fed as investors expect small reduction in stimulus

North American markets were subdued Wednesday ahead of a much-anticipated announcement this afternoon from the U.S. Federal Reserve at the end of its two-day policy meeting.The S&P/TSX composite index dipped 24.20 points to 12,809.91. The Canadian dollar fell 0.12 of a cent to 97.01 cents US.The Fed is expected to announce that it will begin to reduce its massive $85-billion-a month bond-buying program, which was launched after the 2008 financial crisis to boost the flailing U.S. economy.The plan was put in place to keep borrowing rates low, resulting in more investors in the markets and fuelling market rallies across the globe.Since May, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke has hinted that the central bank will begin to scale back its stimulus once it has enough data to show that the economy is recovering. The markets are expecting the Fed to announce a $10 billion reduction in monthly bond purchases.What will be most important is the wording that accompanies the announcement, as investors listen to hear whether more hints will be dropped on the pace of future stimulus reductions.Bernanke is set to make an announcement at 2:30 p.m. ET.Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz will give a morning speech in Vancouver, followed by an afternoon news briefing, before the Fed’s announcement.Wall Street was slightly higher as the Dow Jones index jumped dropped 15.06 points to 15,514.67, the Nasdaq was up 4.43 points to 3,750.13 and the S&P 500 climbed 0.57 of a point to 1,705.33.Prior to the Fed speech, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that builders started work in August on the highest number of single-family homes in the last six months and requested permits to build more. The figures suggest housing is a driver of economic growth despite higher mortgage rates.Meanwhile, in corporate news, smartphone maker BlackBerry (TSX:BB) announced that a new phone will hit the markets in the coming weeks. The BlackBerry Z30 comes with a five-inch display, which means it’s about the same size as its competitor, the Samsung Galaxy S4. The company says the phone has a larger battery that will last for up to 25 hours.The Waterloo, Ont., company says the new phone will be available at a number of Canadian carriers, though specific dates haven’t been announced.BlackBerry has been in the midst of major changes with its organization and has a committee considering strategic alternatives, which could include the sale of the company. Its shares rose 1.10 per cent, or 12 cents, to $11 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.The TSX was mixed, as the energy sector came out as the leading advancer with an uptick of 0.18 per cent as the October crude contract gained 47 cents to US$105.89 a barrel.The gold sector was the leading decliner, down by 0.99 per cent, as December bullion fell $12.70 to US$1,296.70 an ounce.The metals and mining sector was up slightly at 0.08 per cent, while December copper was ahead four cents to US$3.27 a pound.Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.2 per cent to 6,580.02. Germany’s DAX advanced 0.3 per cent to 8,618.78. France’s CAC-40 gained 0.2 per cent to 4,154.99.In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 1.4 per cent to close at 14,505.36. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.3 per cent to 5,238.10. South Korean markets were closed for a public holiday. Benchmarks in mainland China, India, New Zealand and Singapore rose while the Philippines and Indonesia fell.Hong Kong’s Hang Seng, which gained more than 1,000 points so far this September by Tuesday’s close, fell 0.3 per cent to 23,117.45 as investors booked profits.