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Fed officials expect to start bond-buying taper this year, minutes show

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By Jonnelle Marte and Ann Saphir

(Reuters) - The bulk of the Federal Reserve's policy-setting committee is coalescing around a plan that would see the U.S. central bank start trimming its bond-buying program later this year, and reduce purchases of Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities (MBS) "proportionally" so they end at the same time.

Minutes from the Fed's July 27-28 meeting, which were released on Wednesday, showed policymakers remained somewhat at odds over how fast to taper the asset purchases, with "many" of them keen on making sure bond-buying ends before interest rate hikes may need to begin, and "several" preferring a more gradual approach.

"The only thing that is now clearer than it was prior to the release of the Minutes is that the hawkish crowd that has publicly been calling for an 'early and fast' tapering does not represent the majority view," Jefferies economists Thomas Simons and Aneta Markowska said in a research note after the release of the minutes.

Fed officials largely agreed there had been enough progress on inflation to meet the "substantial further progress" threshold needed before the central bank could reduce its monthly purchases, currently set at $80 billion of Treasuries and $40 billion of MBS. However, more improvement in the labor market is needed, they said.

"Most participants noted that, provided that the economy were to evolve broadly as they anticipated, they judged that it could be appropriate to start reducing the pace of asset purchases this year," according to the minutes.

Some Fed policymakers have advocated for reducing the MBS purchases more quickly than those of the Treasuries out of concern they could be fueling an unsustainable boom in the housing market. But the minutes revealed there isn't strong support for that approach.

"Most participants remarked that they saw benefits in reducing the pace of net purchases of Treasury securities and agency MBS proportionally in order to end both sets of purchases at the same time," according to the readout. That plan is consistent with the understanding that both purchases have similar effects on broader financial conditions.

As for the pace of the taper in relation to any future changes to interest rates, participants said the standards for adjusting the Fed's benchmark interest rate were "distinct" from those for tapering. They said the timing of those actions would depend on the "course of the economy."

(Reporting by Jonnelle Marte and Ann Saphir; Editing by Paul Simao and Rosalba O'Brien)

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