The Fed has a surprise in store that could mean an early end to interest rate hikes

The Federal Reserve could have a surprise in store for investors this week, even if everyone already knows the central bank is raising interest rates.

Along with the quarter-point increase in the Fed’s benchmark short-term target, the policymaking Federal Open Market Committee is likely to announce another change that would signal an early exit from its history-making program to reduce the level of bonds being held on its balance sheet.

The mechanics are a little complicated. Yet it suggests that what once appeared to be an operation to shrink the amount of bonds the Fed owns that would have run well into the next decade could be wrapped up next year, or early 2020 at the latest.

Instead of reducing the balance sheet from its peak of $4.5 trillion to $2.5 trillion or so as some Fed officials indicated, the impact could be far less — perhaps, some suggest, to $3.5 trillion or even a little more.

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