WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve on Wednesday took another step in its effort to scale down a controversial bond buying program by an additional $10 billion.
Following through on its strategy to gradually reduce its pace of monthly purchases of mortgage and Treasury bonds, members of the Federal Open Market Committee voted to trim the amount of mortgage-backed securities and longer-term Treasury securities the Fed buys to $30 billion and $35 billion, respectively, following a two-day meeting.
The latest policy action will reduce the Fed's bond buying program to $65 billion.
"In light of the cumulative progress toward maximum employment and the improvement in the outlook for labor market conditions, the committee decided to make a further measured reduction in the pace of its asset purchases," the committee said in its policy statement.
Turmoil in emerging markets and disappointing jobs number in December seemed to do little to dissuade Fed policymakers to derail their plans to trim bond purchases incrementally.
Outgoing Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke established the unprecedented program as an additional tool to help the U.S. economy recover from the worst recession since the Depression. Policymakers had already exhausted their ability to reduce the federal funds rate any further, turning to long-term asset purchases as another way to aid the recovery. The benchmark rate has sat at a range of zero and 0.25% since December 2008.
Janet Yellen, who will succeed Bernanke when his eight-year tenure ends on Jan. 31, will now be responsible for overseeing how the Fed will continue to pull back its stimulus, which has ballooned the Fed's balance sheet to $4 trillion, while also keeping an eye on inflation.
In December, the Fed took an inaugural step to reduce its controversial quantitative easing program to $75 billion, cutting $5 billion each from its mortgage bonds and Treasury securities purchases.
Following that meeting, Bernanke signaled that officials would gradually make cuts at each meeting going forward as long as the U.S. economy continued to show signs of improvement.
"If incoming information broadly supports the committees' expectation of ongoing improvement in labor market conditions and inflation moving back toward its longer-run objective, the committee will likely reduce the pace of asset purchases in further measured steps at future meetings," policymakers reiterated in their January statement.
Fed officials improved their outlook, pointing to signs of a pickup in economic growth more recently. Aside from December's dismal jobs report, policymakers said on balance the labor market showed signs of "further improvement."
The unemployment rate, which currently stands at 6.7%, continued to decline, but was still viewed as "elevated" by Fed officials. And despite household spending improving "more quickly," participants suggested the recovery of the housing sector had "slowed somewhat."
Fed officials kept the federal funds rate in a range of zero to 0.25%, stating such "highly accommodative" monetary policy would remain "appropriate for a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends and the economic recovery strengthens."
Regulators also maintained their forward guidance stating they would keep short-term interest rates near zero "well past the time" the jobless rate hits 6.5%.
But even when the jobless rate falls to that threshold, it will not be a clear indicator that the Fed will automatically start lifting rates. Rather policymakers have said they will take into consideration other factors, including labor market, inflation, and financial developments to determine whether to take that step.
Three regional bank presidents joined Bernanke's last policy meeting as part of the FOMC's annual rotation, including Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota, Cleveland's Sandra Pianalto, Philadelphia's Charles Plosser and Dallas' Richard Fisher. Fed governors have permanent votes, along with the president of the New York Fed, who serves as FOMC vice chairman.
All FOMC participants voted in favor of the Fed's policy decision.
Wednesday's policy meeting comes only days before Bernanke exits from his chairmanship having overseen one of the most tumultuous financial crises in U.S. history.
Ahead of his departure, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson lauded Bernanke for his steadfast resolve in seeking to meet the Fed's dual mandate.
"He was in charge of the Fed during one of the most turbulent economic times in our nation's history, and he didn't waste any time responding to the ensuing financial crisis," said Johnson. "He was aggressive, creative, and thoughtful as he worked to prevent a depression and improve our nation's economy."