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September 19, 2013

Fed: No pullback in bond purchases

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a surprise, the Federal Reserve has decided against reducing its stimulus for the U.S. economy because its outlook for growth has dimmed in the past three months.

The Fed said it will continue to buy $85 billion a month in bonds while it awaits conclusive evidence that the economy is strengthening. The Fed’s bond purchases are intended to keep long-term borrowing rates low to boost spending and economic growth.

“Conditions in the job market today are still far from what all of us would like to see,” Chairman Ben Bernanke said at a news conference shortly after the statement was released.

Stocks spiked after the Fed released the statement at the end of its two-day policy meeting. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index and Dow Jones industrial average jumped to record highs. The Dow was up more than 100 points shortly after the statement was released.

In the statement, the Fed said that the economy is growing moderately and that some indicators of the job market have shown improvement. But it noted that rising mortgage rates and government spending cuts are restraining growth.

The Fed also repeated that it plans to keep its key short-term interest rate near zero at least until unemployment falls to 6.5 percent, down from 7.3 percent last month. In the Fed’s most recent forecast, unemployment could reach that level as soon as late 2014.

“We’re in a slow-growth economy with high unemployment and low inflation,” said Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com. “There’s no specific catalyst for the Fed to remove stimulus.”

Many thought the Fed would scale back its purchases. But long-term rates on mortgages and some other loans have jumped since May, when Bernanke first said the Fed might slow its bond buys later this year. But Bernanke cautioned that the reduction would hinge on the economy showing continued improvement.

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