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Continued: Bernanke says stronger economy means Fed could slow bond buying this year, end it next year

  • Article by: MARTIN CRUTSINGER , AP Economics Writer
  • Last update: June 19, 2013 - 7:10 PM

The fact that the Fed foresees less downside risk to the job market "gives them a reason to pull back" on its bond purchases, Duy said.

In its statement, the Fed also said it would maintain its plan to keep short-term rates at record lows at least until unemployment reaches 6.5 percent.

In its updated economic forecast, Fed officials predicted that unemployment will fall to 7.2 percent or 7.3 percent at the end of this year from 7.6 percent now. They think the rate will be between 6.5 percent and 6.8 percent by the end of 2014, better than its previous projection in March of 6.7 percent to 7 percent.

The Fed also said inflation was running below its 2 percent long-run objective, but noted that temporary factors were partly the reason. It said inflation could run as low as 0.8 percent this year. But it predicts it will pick up next year to between 1.4 percent and 2 percent.

David Robin, co-head of the futures and options desk at the brokerage Newedge, said he didn't think Bernanke's upbeat assessment matches an economy that's just "muddling along."

Investors may suspect the Fed is looking for a reason to scale back the bond purchases, Robin said. "It's a big mess," he said.

The statement was approved on a 10-2 vote. James Bullard, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, objected for the first time this year, saying he wanted a stronger commitment from the Fed to keep inflation from falling too low.

Esther George objected for the fourth time this year, again voicing concerns about inflation rising too quickly.

At his news conference, Bernanke declined to address speculation that he will step down as Fed chairman when his term ends in January.

He was asked to respond to comments Monday by President Barack Obama, who said Bernanke had already stayed longer than planned. The president's remarks added to expectations that Bernanke intends to step down.

Bernanke avoided the question.

"I would like to keep the discussion on monetary policy," he said. "I don't have anything for you on my personal plans."

David Jones, chief economist at DMJ Advisors, suggested that Bernanke had achieved a key goal Wednesday: Clearing up the confusion he'd created when he sent a mixed message to Congress last month about when the Fed might start to slow its bond buying program.

"What Bernanke did was clarify" when it will taper its bond purchases, Jones said.

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