Fed eyes more asset purchases in 2013

The Federal Reserve is mulling additional asset purchases next year to boost jobs amid a fragile economy, the minutes of a policy meeting released Wednesday showed.

With the current $45 billion a month "Operation Twist" asset adjustment program scheduled to end in December, the minutes suggested that the Fed was ready to go ahead with more outright bond purchases, aimed at pushing long-term interest rates lower.

"A number of participants indicated that additional asset purchases would likely be appropriate next year after the conclusion of the maturity extension program in order to achieve a substantial improvement in the labor market," the document said.

A new program would overlap with the "QE3" open-ended $40 billion a month asset purchase program announced in September.

Participants at the central bank's Federal Open Market Committee on October 23-24 discussed the impact of its longstanding near-zero interest rate policy and other measures aimed at helping the US recover from the 2008-2009 severe recession.

At the meeting, the FOMC stayed the course on monetary policy, but the meeting minutes revealed divisions, including concerns that low rates will unleash inflation and questions about the effectiveness of massive asset purchases, or quantitative easing (QE).

Participants generally agreed that in determining the appropriate size, pace, and composition of further purchases, "they would need to carefully assess the efficacy of asset purchases in fostering stronger economic activity and consider the potential risks and costs of such purchases."

Participants were meanwhile undecided on whether the Fed should set explicit targets for unemployment and inflation to better indicate when it might raise interest rates.

The Fed officials generally viewed the policy actions as having been "effective" in easing financial conditions, with lower rates supporting spending for housing, automobiles and other big-ticket goods.

Though the participants considered information on US economic activity indicated modest growth, monthly job gains remained modest.

"Many members noted that, without sufficient policy accommodation, economic growth might not be strong enough to generate sustained improvement in the labor market."

The United States added a better-than-expected 171,000 jobs in October, though the unemployment rose to 7.9 percent, after a surprising three-point drop in September to 7.8 percent.

Recent data has shown the labor market recovery is picking up momentum. However, the number of long-term unemployed, people without work for at least 27 weeks, rose to 5.0 million last month.

Economists say the stuttering pace of economic growth -- at an annual 2.0 percent in the third quarter -- remains well below the rate needed to significantly bring down unemployment.

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