The minutes spelled out the FOMC's view on Federal Reserve bond purchases, with a pretty clear timeline, all things considered. Key comments are italicized.

"First, almost all participants confirmed that they were broadly comfortable with the characterization of the contingent outlook for asset purchases that was presented in the June postmeeting press conference and in the July monetary policy testimony. Under that outlook, if economic conditions improved broadly as expected, the Committee would moderate the pace of its securities purchases later this year. And if economic conditions continued to develop broadly as anticipated, the Committee would reduce the pace of purchases in measured steps and conclude the purchase program around the middle of 2014."

So there you have it. The FOMC broadly supports the views laid out in July by Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, and the central bank's balance sheet expansion should end by the middle of next year.

While the long quote above was rather specific, "in the view of the one member who dissented from the policy statement, the improvement in the labor market was an important reason for calling for a more explicit statement from the Committee that asset purchases would be reduced in the near future," according to the minutes.

The committee members discussed whether or not to provide "additional information on the Committee's intentions regarding adjustments to the federal funds rate after the 6-1/2 percent unemployment rate threshold was reached, in order to strengthen or clarify the Committee's forward guidance." But no additional guidance for the eventual lifting of the federal funds rate was included in the FOMC statement on July 31.

While the minutes were a bit more specific on the timing of the Fed's tapering of bond purchases, the details were unlikely to have surprised investors.

Then again, UBS economist Kevin Cummins said in an interview that the FOMC minutes were " pretty consistent with a September taper" of bond buying.

Other Economic News

The National Association of Realtors said existing-home sales during July hit a three-year high, rising to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.39 million. Existing-home sales rose from a downwardly revised annul pace of 5.06 million during June, and were up 17% from a year earlier.

Meanwhile, it was clear that rising long-term rates were starting to take their toll on residential lending, with the Mortgage Bankers Association saying its Refinance Index had declined 62% from its peak in May. The MBA also said that mortgage loan applications for the week ended Aug. 16 were down 4.6% from a week earlier.

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