Deciphering the Taper Tantrum: Causes, Impact, and Lessons


The Taper Tantrum of 2013 was a significant market event triggered by the Federal Reserve’s announcement to reduce its quantitative easing program. This article delves into the causes, consequences, and why it didn’t affect the stock market as expected.

What is the taper tantrum?

In the financial world, the term “taper tantrum” became synonymous with a dramatic surge in U.S. Treasury yields in 2013. This surge was a direct result of the Federal Reserve’s announcement that it would gradually scale back its policy of quantitative easing. The ensuing rise in bond yields in response to the announcement was referred to as a taper tantrum in financial media. What exactly is this phenomenon, and what led to this collective market panic?

Understanding taper tantrum

In reaction to the 2008 financial crisis and ensuing recession, the Federal Reserve executed a policy known as quantitative easing (QE), which involved large purchases of bonds and other securities. In theory, this policy aimed to increase liquidity in the financial sector to maintain stability and promote economic growth. Stabilizing the financial sector encouraged lending, allowing consumers to spend and businesses to invest.

Historically, quantitative easing, a monetary policy designed to infuse more dollars into the economy, was considered a short-term fix due to the potential danger of falling dollar values leading to hyperinflation. Tapering, which gradually reduces the amount of money the Fed injects into the economy, should theoretically reduce the economy’s reliance on that money and allow the Fed to remove itself as the economy’s crutch.

However, since 2015, the Fed has found new ways to infuse cash into the economy without lowering the value of the dollar. These policy tools, such as the repurchase window, may have opened a new chapter in the future study of macroeconomic policy. However, investor behavior always involves not just current conditions but expectations of future economic performance and Fed policy. If the public learns about the Fed’s plan to engage in tapering, panic can ensue, as people worry that the lack of money will trigger market instability. This is particularly problematic when the market becomes highly dependent on continued Fed support.

What caused the 2013 taper tantrum?

In 2013, Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke announced that the Fed would, at some future date, reduce the volume of its bond purchases. Since the 2008 financial crisis, the Fed had tripled the size of its balance sheet from around $1 trillion to around $3 trillion by purchasing almost $2 trillion in Treasury bonds and other financial assets to support the market. Investors had come to depend on ongoing massive Fed support for asset prices through its purchases.

This prospective policy of reducing the rate of Fed asset purchases represented a massive negative shock to investor expectations, as the Fed had become one of the world’s biggest buyers. As with any reduction in demand, with reduced Fed purchases, bond prices would fall. Bond investors reacted immediately to the prospect of future declines in bond prices by selling bonds, leading to higher yields on U.S. Treasuries.

Why the panic?

It is essential to note that no actual sell-off of Fed assets or tapering of the Fed’s quantitative easing policy had occurred at this point. Chair Bernanke’s comments referred only to the possibility that, at some future date, the Fed might do so. The extreme bond market reaction at the time to a mere possibility of less support in the future underscored the degree to which bond markets had become addicted to Fed stimulus.

Many believed that the stock market could follow suit since the money flowing into the economy from the Fed through bond purchases was also widely understood to be supporting stock prices. If so, this market reaction to the prospect for Fed tapering could potentially sink the economy. Instead, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) made only temporary declines in mid-2013.

Why didn’t the stock market fall during the taper tantrum?

Several reasons contributed to the stock market’s resilience during the taper tantrum. For one, following Chair Bernanke’s comments, the Fed did not actually slow its QE purchases but instead launched into a 3rd round of massive bond purchases, totaling another $1.5 trillion by 2015. Secondly, the Fed professed a strong faith in market recovery, boosting investor sentiment and actively managing investor expectations through regular policy announcements. Once investors realized that there was no reason to panic, the stock market leveled out.

Effects on global markets

The Taper Tantrum of 2013 had far-reaching effects on global markets beyond the United States. As U.S. Treasury yields spiked, they influenced the yields of bonds in other countries. For example, emerging markets faced significant challenges.

During this period, investors started pulling their funds from emerging markets, leading to currency devaluation and stock market declines. This is a clear example of how a seemingly domestic policy shift by the Federal Reserve can have a profound impact on the interconnected global financial system.

Case study: India’s turbulent times

One noteworthy example is India. In response to the Taper Tantrum, the Indian Rupee experienced a sharp depreciation, causing economic instability. The Indian government had to take emergency measures, including implementing capital controls and seeking international support to stabilize the situation.

European contagion

The effects of the Taper Tantrum also rippled across the Atlantic. European markets experienced increased volatility and capital outflows, particularly in countries with fragile economies. The European Central Bank had to implement policies to counteract the spillover effects from the U.S.

Learning from the taper tantrum

One valuable lesson from the Taper Tantrum is the importance of effective communication by central banks. The Federal Reserve’s initial announcement triggered panic, but it was their subsequent efforts to reassure the markets that helped stabilize the situation.

Transparency and forward guidance

Central banks worldwide have since adopted clearer communication strategies. They provide forward guidance on their monetary policies, helping investors and the public better understand their plans. This is a key takeaway from the Taper Tantrum, highlighting the importance of central bank transparency in maintaining market stability.

Market resilience

The Taper Tantrum also demonstrated the resilience of financial markets. Despite the initial panic, markets adapted to the changing environment. The example of the stock market not collapsing as expected highlights how markets can absorb and adjust to shifts in monetary policy.

The post-taper tantrum era

In the years following the Taper Tantrum, the financial landscape has evolved. The Federal Reserve implemented a gradual tapering of its bond purchases, and the markets adjusted to this new normal.

Modern monetary policy

Today, central banks employ more modern monetary policy tools, like interest rate targeting and quantitative easing, with an emphasis on stability and gradual change. The Taper Tantrum experience played a role in shaping these policies and the way central banks communicate with the public.

Market sentiment and expectations

Investor behavior is still influenced by central bank actions, but the Taper Tantrum reminds us that market sentiment and expectations play a significant role. By understanding how market psychology can influence outcomes, investors can make more informed decisions.


The Taper Tantrum of 2013 serves as a valuable lesson in the interplay between central bank actions, market reactions, and investor sentiment. It showcased how dependent financial markets had become on the Federal Reserve’s stimulus and the potential consequences of any deviation from that path. Despite the initial panic, the stock market’s resilience and the Fed’s proactive approach helped maintain stability. Understanding the taper tantrum is essential for investors and policymakers to navigate future monetary policy challenges.

Frequently Asked Questions

What were the main causes of the taper tantrum?

The primary causes of the Taper Tantrum were the Federal Reserve’s announcement of a potential reduction in its bond purchases and the market’s dependence on these purchases. Investors feared that a decrease in bond buying would lead to higher yields and lower bond prices, sparking panic.

How did the taper tantrum affect the average investor?

The Taper Tantrum had a cascading effect on average investors. It led to higher interest rates on mortgages and loans, affecting borrowing costs. It also impacted investment portfolios as bond prices fell, affecting those with investments in bonds and bond-related instruments.

What lessons can investors learn from the taper tantrum?

Investors can learn several lessons from the Taper Tantrum. First, it highlights the importance of staying informed about central bank policies and their potential impacts. Second, it emphasizes the need for diversified portfolios to mitigate risks during market turbulence. Lastly, it underscores the significance of understanding market psychology and not panicking in response to sudden market movements.

How did central banks adapt after the taper tantrum?

The Taper Tantrum prompted central banks to focus on improving communication and transparency. They began providing forward guidance on their monetary policies to reduce uncertainty. Central banks also adjusted their approaches to monetary policy and began using more modern tools to achieve their goals while maintaining market stability.

Is a taper tantrum likely to happen again?

Taper Tantrums are possible in the future if central banks announce significant changes to their monetary policies. Market reactions depend on various factors, including the state of the economy, investor sentiment, and central bank communication. While another Taper Tantrum is not guaranteed, it’s essential for investors to be prepared for potential market shifts.

Key takeaways

  • The Taper Tantrum of 2013 was a surge in U.S. Treasury yields triggered by the Federal Reserve’s announcement of reducing its bond purchases.
  • Investors feared the market would crumble due to the cessation of quantitative easing (QE), leading to a spike in Treasury yields.
  • The Taper Tantrum had global implications, affecting emerging markets and leading to currency devaluation and stock market declines.
  • Effective communication by central banks and transparent forward guidance are vital tools to prevent market instability.
  • The Taper Tantrum highlights the importance of understanding market psychology and the potential impacts of central bank policies on investor behavior.
  • While another Taper Tantrum is not guaranteed, it’s essential for investors to be prepared for potential market shifts in the future.
View Article Sources
  1. Taper Tantrum or Tedium: How U.S. Interest Rates Affect … – IMF
  2. Will another taper tantrum hit emerging markets? – Brookings
  3. Taper Tantrum and Emerging Equity Market Slumps –