Fed mulls exit strategy update amid timing debate

The Federal Reserve has begun reviewing its strategy to exit stimulus measures, according to the minutes of the last FOMC policy meeting released Wednesday.

But officials at the Federal Open Market Committee meeting on April 30-May 1 remained divided over just when to begin tapering down the exceptionally accommodative policy used to support the US economy's recovery, the minutes showed.

With indicators pointing to moderate growth, the FOMC began an update of the exit strategy outlined in the panel's June 2011 meeting.

"The broad principles adopted almost two years ago appeared generally still valid," the minutes said.

"But developments since then... suggested a need for greater flexibility regarding the details of implementing policy normalization, particularly because those details would appropriately depend at least in part upon future economic and financial developments."

At the meeting, the FOMC left its near-zero interest rate policy in place and agreed to continue its $85 billion a month bond-purchase program to help tamp down longer-term interest rates.

The Fed has reiterated it would not begin to tighten policy until at least the unemployment rate falls below 6.5 percent and inflation rises to a half point over its 2.0 percent target in the medium term.

In their discussion about an eventual tapering down of the stimulus, "many of these participants indicated that continued progress, more confidence in the outlook, or diminished downside risks would be required before slowing the pace of purchases would become appropriate."

The minutes suggest that recent improvements in unemployment and the housing market had some official thinking of winding down stimulus in June.

"A number of participants expressed willingness to adjust the flow of purchases downward as early as the June meeting if the economic information received by that time showed evidence of sufficiently strong and sustained growth," they said.

With the jobless rate at 7.5 percent and inflation running well below the Fed target, it appeared unlikely the Fed would be taking its foot off the stimulus pedal any time soon.

The FOMC's next meeting is scheduled on June 18 and 19.