NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The Federal Reserve at long last announced Wednesday that it would begin tapering bond purchases, citing "cumulative progress" in the labor market.
The central bank now plans to trim bond purchases by $10 billion to $75 billion a month beginning in January. It will purchase agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $35 billion a month, as opposed to $40 billion and will buy Treasuries at a pace of $40 billion rather than $45 billion.
The Fed also said it would keep interest rates low "well past" the time unemployment rate hits 6.5%, especially if inflation remains below the central bank's target of 2%.
Stocks initially were volatile following the Fed's announcement, but were last trading strongly higher. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 1.5%. Bonds declined moderately. The 10-Year note was down 10/32, with the yield rising to 2.878%.
Speaking at his final press conference, outgoing Chairman Ben Bernanke emphasized that the central bank was "tapering" not tightening. The central bank was continuing to add to its portfolio.
He also cautioned that the employment rate of 6.5% was a threshold not a trigger. While Fed officials expect unemployment rate to fall to 6.5% by the end of 2014, they will look at a range of measures including hirings, quits, labor force participation rate, wages and so on in determining whether the employment market was strong enough to allow for a tightening in monetary policy.
Bernanke said the Fed plans to do similar measured reductions at each meeting through the end of 2014, but again cautioned that any taper would be "data dependent".
The Fed is particularly worried about inflation being too low and would take "appropriate action" if it fails to meet the target 2%.
Janet Yellen is expected to be confirmed as the new Chairwoman of the Fed this week. Asked if she was on board with the latest decision, Bernanke said he always closely consulted with her on monetary policy and that she supported the taper.
In response to a question about how he would be judged by monetary policy historians in the future, Bernanke said ""I hope I live long enough to read the textbooks."
He said the Federal Reserve "rediscovered its roots" during his tenure, stabilizing the system in times of panic. His time at the Fed will also be known as one of the first examples of aggressive monetary policy action amid near-zero interest rates, he said.
Still, he added that monetary policy was not a panacea. The fiscal drag from Congress' failure to resolve budget issues earlier this year weighed on the economy despite the Fed's efforts.
However, he welcomed the latest budget deal that is expected to clear this week.
-- Written by Shanthi Bharatwaj in New York.