Federal Reserve officials are split on when to end stimulus program

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Federal Reserve policymakers appear to be deeply split on how quickly to pull back their $85 billion-a-month bond-buying stimulus.

An account of the central bank’s last meeting in mid-June shows that about half of the Fed officials believe the bond-purchase program should be halted by the end of the year. A few participants even wanted to see the purchases slowed or stopped at the last meeting, according to the minutes, which were released Wednesday with the usual three-week lag.

That would be much sooner than what most investors are expecting — and ahead of the time frame outlined by Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke. Three weeks ago, he suggested that the bond purchases would likely be tapered later this year but would continue until the middle of next year. That’s as long as the economy continued to improve, with the jobless rate falling to about 7 percent by then from the current 7.6 percent.

But the minutes also show that “many other participants anticipated that it likely would be appropriate to continue purchases into 2014.”

Moreover, many of the Fed members said they wanted to see further improvement in the labor market outlook before slowing the pace of bond purchases. Additionally, some members added that they want to see more evidence that the economy will pick up, as many in and outside the Fed have projected.

Some analysts said that the minutes, coupled with the solid June jobs report that was released after the last Fed meeting, strengthens the view that the central bank will begin tapering the bond purchases at its September meeting. The Fed minutes say nothing about how much the tapering might be, although analysts expect any slowing to be gradual.

One thing that Fed officials did agree on at their last meeting: “The committee should provide additional clarity about its asset purchase program relatively soon,” the minutes said.