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Fed Cites "pause" In Growth, Stands By Stimulus

Diane Swonk chief economist at Mesirow Financial, suspects the minutes of the meeting, which will be released in three weeks, will reveal some concerns members hold about the budget issues' impact on the economy.

"The Fed is very cognizant about how it characterizes the economy," Swonk said. "They are worried about a self-fulfilling prophecy of talking the economy down too much."

The statement was approved on an 11-1 vote. Esther George, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, cast the lone dissenting vote. George, who is a new voting member, expressed concerns about the risk of higher inflation caused by the Fed's aggressive policies.

In December, the Fed signaled for the first time that it will tie its policies to specific economic barometers. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke made clear during a news conference that even after unemployment falls below 6.5 percent, the Fed might decide that it needs to keep stimulating the economy. Other economic factors will also shape its policy decisions, he said.

The guidance was designed to give consumers, companies and investors a clearer sense of when super-low borrowing costs might start to rise.

The Fed also said it would continue its bond purchases until the job market improved "substantially."

When it buys bonds, the Fed increases its investment portfolio and pumps more money into the financial system â¿¿ something critics say could eventually ignite inflation or create dangerous bubbles in assets like real estate or stocks.

On Friday, the government will release its jobs report for January. The unemployment is expected to remain 7.8 percent. That still-high rate, 3½ years after the Great Recession officially ended, helps explain why the Fed has kept its key short-term rate at a record low near zero since December 2008, just after the financial crisis erupted.

Still, some private economists think the Fed will decide to suspend its bond purchases in the second half of this year. They note that the minutes of the Fed's December meeting revealed a split: Some of the 12 voting members thought the bond purchases would be needed through 2013. Others felt the purchases should be slowed or stopped altogether before year's end.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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