Fed hints it may take new action

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal Reserve officials signaled Wednesday that they may be ready to launch a new bond-buying program when they next meet in September.

The goal would be to try to lower long-term interest rates to encourage more borrowing and spending.

Minutes of the July 31-Aug. 1 policy meeting released Wednesday don’t explicitly say what action the Fed would most likely take. But they hint that the central bank is preparing to begin more bond buying.

The minutes show that Fed officials spoke at the meeting with increased urgency about the need to provide more help for the still-weak U.S. economy. Many felt further support would be needed “fairly soon” unless the economy improved significantly.

The Fed has already sought to drive down long-term rates by buying more than $2 trillion in Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities in two previous rounds of bond purchases. The purchases are called “quantitative easing.”

Based on the minutes, David Jones, chief economist at DMJ Advisors, said he thought the likelihood of further quantitative easing had risen from evenly split to as high as a 70 percent chance that the Fed will make that move when it meets Sept. 12-13.

In the minutes, the Fed noted, “Many members judged that additional monetary accommodation would likely be warranted fairly soon unless incoming information pointed to a substantial and sustainable strengthening in the pace of the economic recovery.”

Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said that wording signaled that the Fed won’t be satisfied by the modest improvements the economy has made recently.

“Quantitative easing is still very much on the table,” Ashworth said.

The minutes also show many officials favor pushing the timetable for any increase in record-low short-term rates beyond the Fed’s current target of late 2014 at the earliest. Some economists think the target will be extended to mid-2015.

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