Federal Reserve officials have an end in mind for the latest round of quantitative easing: If all goes to plan, they will taper the central bank's bond purchases from the current $35 billion a month to zero by October, the minutes from the June monetary policy meeting released Wednesday reveal.
The minutes show that Fed officials "generally agreed" that if the upcoming months show continued acceleration in the labor market and moderate inflation, "it would be appropriate" to continue to taper by $10 billion in the next two meetings and then cut the $15 billion remaining purchases at the October meeting. The Fed has reduced the size of its monthly purchases of Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities by $10 billion each meeting beginning in December.
Investors anticipated that the bond-buying program would be phased out near the end of the year, after months of efforts by both former Chairman Ben Bernanke and current Chairwoman Janet Yellen to manage expectations. It was not clear, however, whether the Fed would end quantitative easing in October with a $15 billion reduction in purchases or make another $10 billion cut in October and continue buying $5 billion a month through the early winter.
The Fed viewed this question as "a technical issue with no substantive macroeconomic consequences" and settled on the bigger cut in October to "avoid having the small, remaining level of purchases receive undue focus among investors," according to the minutes.
If all goes to plan, October would mark the end of the quantitative easing program started in late 2012 by Bernanke to avoid deflation and the possibility of another recession. That followed a $600 billion quantitative easing program, commonly known as QE2, that took place between 2010 and 2011.
The Fed also engaged in large-scale asset purchases to stem the financial panic in 2008, quickly expanding its balance sheet from roughly $900 billion to more than $2 trillion by the end of the year. Currently, its balance sheet stands at roughly $4.4 trillion.