Ben BernankeREUTERS/Jonathan ErnstOutgoing Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke ascends to central banker heaven.

LATEST: The Federal Open Market Committee’s January decision on monetary policy is out.

The FOMC elected to reduce the pace of monthly bond purchases it makes under its quantitative easing program by another $US10 billion to $US65 billion, as expected by the vast majority of economists on Wall Street.

Below is the full text of the release:

Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in December indicates that growth in economic activity picked up in recent quarters. Labour market indicators were mixed but on balance showed further improvement. The unemployment rate declined but remains elevated. Household spending and business fixed investment advanced more quickly in recent months, while the recovery in the housing sector slowed somewhat. Fiscal policy is restraining economic growth, although the extent of restraint is diminishing. Inflation has been running below the Committee’s longer-run objective, but longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.

Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The Committee expects that, with appropriate policy accommodation, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace and the unemployment rate will gradually decline toward levels the Committee judges consistent with its dual mandate. The Committee sees the risks to the outlook for the economy and the labour market as having become more nearly balanced. The Committee recognises that inflation persistently below its 2 per cent objective could pose risks to economic performance, and it is monitoring inflation developments carefully for evidence that inflation will move back toward its objective over the medium term.

Taking into account the extent of federal fiscal retrenchment since the inception of its current asset purchase program, the Committee continues to see the improvement in economic activity and labour market conditions over that period as consistent with growing underlying strength in the broader economy. In light of the cumulative progress toward maximum employment and the improvement in the outlook for labour market conditions, the Committee decided to make a further measured reduction in the pace of its asset purchases. Beginning in February, the Committee will add to its holdings of agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $US30 billion per month rather than $US35 billion per month, and will add to its holdings of longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of $US35 billion per month rather than $US40 billion per month. The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction. The Committee’s sizable and still-increasing holdings of longer-term securities should maintain downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, support mortgage markets, and help to make broader financial conditions more accommodative, which in turn should promote a stronger economic recovery and help to ensure that inflation, over time, is at the rate most consistent with the Committee’s dual mandate.

The Committee will closely monitor incoming information on economic and financial developments in coming months and will continue its purchases of Treasury and agency mortgage-backed securities, and employ its other policy tools as appropriate, until the outlook for the labour market has improved substantially in a context of price stability. If incoming information broadly supports the Committee’s expectation of ongoing improvement in labour market conditions and inflation moving back toward its longer-run objective, the Committee will likely reduce the pace of asset purchases in further measured steps at future meetings. However, asset purchases are not on a preset course, and the Committee’s decisions about their pace will remain contingent on the Committee’s outlook for the labour market and inflation as well as its assessment of the likely efficacy and costs of such purchases.

To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee today reaffirmed its view that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy will remain appropriate for a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends and the economic recovery strengthens. The Committee also reaffirmed its expectation that the current exceptionally low target range for the federal funds rate of 0 to 1/4 per cent will be appropriate at least as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6-1/2 per cent, inflation between one and two years ahead is projected to be no more than a half percentage point above the Committee’s 2 per cent longer-run goal, and longer-term inflation expectations continue to be well anchored. In determining how long to maintain a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy, the Committee will also consider other information, including additional measures of labour market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial developments. The Committee continues to anticipate, based on its assessment of these factors, that it likely will be appropriate to maintain the current target range for the federal funds rate well past the time that the unemployment rate declines below 6-1/2 per cent, especially if projected inflation continues to run below the Committee’s 2 per cent longer-run goal. When the Committee decides to begin to remove policy accommodation, it will take a balanced approach consistent with its longer-run goals of maximum employment and inflation of 2 per cent.

Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Ben S. Bernanke, Chairman; William C. Dudley, Vice Chairman; Richard W. Fisher; Narayana Kocherlakota; Sandra Pianalto; Charles I. Plosser; Jerome H. Powell; Jeremy C. Stein; Daniel K. Tarullo; and Janet L. Yellen.

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EARLIER: Heads up! We are minutes away from the release of the Federal Open Market Committee’s final decision on monetary policy under the leadership of outgoing Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, due out at 2 PM ET.

Markets are sliding headed into the release.

72 of the 78 market economists polled by Bloomberg predict the FOMC will taper the amount of monthly bond purchases it makes under its quantitative easing program by an additional $US10 billion to $US75 billion, matching the size of the first reduction to the program announced in December.

The consensus view on Wall Street is that the FOMC will continue tapering QE by $US10 billion at each meeting until the program is wound down completely.

In 2014 emerging markets have come under fire as portfolio outflows exacerbate dollar shortages caused by Fed tapering and put downward pressure on EM currencies. And in recent days, these stresses have spilled over into risky assets in developed markets around the world.

What seemed like a straightforward decision for the FOMC has been complicated by this global market turmoil, but few see the Committee deviating from the $US10-billion-per-meeting pace of tapering nonetheless. However, it could opt to modify the language in its policy statement to at least acknowledge the strain on emerging markets, which would probably be a positive development for risk assets.

The other big question is what the FOMC will do to shore up its forward guidance on the likely future path of short-term interest rates. The Committee has a few options, which you can read more about here.

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