Fed expected to take further step toward ending bond buying

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve is expected to cut its bond-buying program by a further $10 billion on Wednesday as signs mount that the United States economy is starting to pull away from its winter slowdown.

Janet Yellen's second policy-setting session as Fed chair should confirm the central bank's plan to wind down its purchases of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities by year-end - a sign of its confidence the economy is gaining traction.

The reduction likely to be announced at the end of the Fed's two-day meeting would bring the total monthly purchases down to US$45 billion, split between US$25 billion of Treasuries and US$20 billion of mortgage-backed securities.

But analysts expect little more out of the session as the Fed enters what may be a sort of holding pattern as it transitions from an era of crisis response to one of more normal monetary policy.

The meeting "will probably be a quiet one," with the reduction in purchases "a foregone conclusion," and no fresh economic forecasts from the members of the Fed's policy-making committee, said Goldman Sachs senior economist Kris Dawsey.

A statement outlining the policy decision and the Fed's view of the economy will be issued overnight at 2am Singapore time on Thursday.

Little or no change is expected in the Fed's guidance on its key overnight interest rate, which it has kept near zero since the depths of the financial crisis in December 2008.

The Fed changed its guidance in March when it dropped language that said the target rate would not be increased until the unemployment rate fell to at least 6.5 per cent.

Unemployment has been steadily approaching that threshold, and now stands at 6.7 per cent. But with little sign of inflation, Yellen has said she feels there is still ample"slack" in the economy and a need to keep rates low to continue to support economic growth.

During an April 16 speech in New York, she said the United States may still be more than two years away from what the Fed now regards as the "longer-run normal unemployment rate" of between 5.2 per cent and 5.6 per cent. "Thus far in the recovery and to this day, there is little question that the economy has remained far from maximum employment," she said.