Equity markets are taking a well-earned breather this morning after the latest Fed minutes sparked speculation that Chairman Bernanke’s asset purchase programme could dry up as soon as June of this year – though earlier assurances from the Fed chief suggested the taps will be left on whilst the recovery remains fragile. In this context, the panic selling evident in Asia overnight looks completely overdone, with trading halts triggered as the Nikkei plunged over 7%. Obviously weak data from China overnight didn’t help sentiment in the short term, but markets sent a very clear message to central bankers last night that if the free bar closes, everyone’s going home… Utility stocks occupy the top spots on the FTSE leader board this morning as a flight to safety combines with strong numbers from United Utilities and ongoing bid speculation to prop up the sector. The remainder of the index makes for grim reading, though obviously this morning’s move has to be read in the context of recent gains. If at the start of the year you’d announced a May price target on the FTSE of 6730 you’d have been accused of wild over-optimism in many quarters…Better than expected PMI Manufacturing measures out of France and Germany this morning helped raised investor spirits, though misses on the corresponding Services numbers quickly blunted the reaction. In the context of last night’s panic, this afternoon’s Jobless Claims and New Home Sales data become huge market talking points, and we could very well see bulls pinning their hopes on bad numbers in the hope that the Fed might be deterred from bringing down the shutters too early.The Sales Trading desk at CMC Markets has seen clients with short index positions breathing a huge sigh of relief this morning as many of them unwind bearish trades and seek to re-assess conditions as the dust settles.CMC Markets is an execution only service provider. The material (whether or not it states any opinions) is for general information purposes only, and does not take into account your personal circumstances or objectives. Nothing in this material is (or should be considered to be) financial, investment or other advice on which reliance should be placed. No opinion given in the material constitutes a recommendation by CMC Markets or the author that any particular investment, security, transaction or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person.