In its statement after the last meeting, the Fed said the economy had strengthened but still needed its efforts to help lower high unemployment. In addition to continuing the bond purchases, the Fed stuck by its plan to keep short-term interest rates at record lows at least until unemployment falls to 6.5 percent.

The minutes indicated that many of the Fed's members want to see sustained improvement in the job market â¿¿ from a wide range of economic indicators â¿¿ before making any decision to reduce the pace of purchases.

Stocks rose sharply after the minutes were released. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 16 points to 1,585 in midday trading â¿¿ above its all-time high of 1,576.09 set in October 2007. The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 119 points to 14,792.

The Fed made minutes public earlier on Wednesday after learning that about 100 congressional staffers and lobbyists received them at 2 p.m. EDT on Tuesday. They had been scheduled to be released at 2 p.m. EDT on Wednesday.

Fed spokesman David Skidmore said the Fed notified the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission about the mishap. The Fed also asked its inspector general to investigate its procedures for releasing the minutes.

"At this time we do not know if there was any trading related to the early distribution," Skidmore said. "Every indication at this time is that the early distribution of the minutes was entirely accidental."

John Nester, a spokesman for the SEC, declined to comment on the release of the minutes, beyond saying that the Fed contacted the SEC staff.

Several staff members of both the House Financial Services and Senate Banking committees were among those who received the minutes early.

The minutes showed a wide array of opinions and criteria for when to end the bond purchases, which have boosted the Fed's balance sheet to $3.2 trillion.

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