Fed anxiety spurs worst day for Dow in 2013

The stock market suffered heavy losses Thursday, one day after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke laid out how the central bank hoped to wean the U.S. economy off its stimulus in the coming year.

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The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 353 points, or 2.3 percent. The blue-chip index also suffered heavy losses Wednesday after the Fed's latest statement, resulting in a two-day total loss of 550 points. 

Both the Standard & Poor's 500 and the NASDAQ indexes suffered similar drops Thursday.

Thursday's losses, the worst since the presidential election, are being seen as stock market jitters driven by Bernanke's remarks, in which he laid out an exit strategy of sorts for the Fed's unprecedented intervention into the U.S. economy. 

Anxiety over slowing economic growth in China was also thought to be a factor.

The Fed announced Wednesday it was planning on continuing to buy $85 billion of bonds per month in its latest bid of "quantitative easing," while keeping interest rates near zero. 

But in a followup press conference, Bernanke shone more light on the Fed's exit strategy. 

He said the central bank hoped to reduce the size of the purchases in the coming months, as the economy continues to gain strength. If all went according to plan, the Fed could halt the purchases by the middle of next year, he said.

Bernanke emphasized that such an outlook would be adjusted according to economic conditions, and that the Fed is still a ways off from selling those bonds back into the market, let alone hiking interest rates. 

But market jitters remained high as the unprecedented level of accommodative monetary policy appears to be nearing an end.

The Fed has embarked on a slew of never-before-seen policy moves since the financial crisis and economic recession five years ago, including years of incredibly low interest rates and trillions of dollars in bond purchases aimed at further spurring lending and the economy.

Stock markets surged to all-time highs under the Fed's policies, and the Fed itself has touted the efforts as providing critical support to the economy, especially in terms of the now-recovering housing market.