US Federal Reserve poised for another taper of big stimulus

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US Federal Reserve will open its last policy meeting chaired by Mr Ben Bernanke on Tuesday, with another stimulus cut widely expected.

Mr Bernanke, whose eight-year tenure as Fed chairman has included the deepest economic and financial crisis in the United States since the 1930s, is stepping down on Jan 31 after putting in motion the wind-down of the central banks' unprecedented stimulus programmeme.

The taper of the Fed's asset-purchase programme, which has been aimed at tamping down interest rates to support economic growth, charts new territory in central bank policy, and the Fed has signalled it will proceed cautiously to avoid undermining recovery from the Great Recession.

The Fed took the first step in December, deciding to cut the US$85 billion (S$108 billion) a month operation by US$10 billion, and most economists expect it to cut another US$10 billion in this week's meeting, But the two-day Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting opening on Tuesday comes amid strains in emerging-market currencies, in part due to the Fed's stimulus cuts, which are pushing up interest rates.

To fight an outflow of funds pressing its currency down, in India the central bank surprised with a quarter-point rate hike to 8 per cent, and in Turkey the central bank signalled it would hike rates at a late-night crisis meeting. But those emerging-market woes appeared unlikely to sway the Fed from further tapering.

The moves in India and Turkey helped firm up emerging-market and advanced-economy stock exchanges on Tuesday, "which in turn should take any pressure not to taper off the Fed", said Mr Chris Low of FTN Financial.

For the Fed, no rate increase is on the horizon for this year. Having kept the key federal funds rate near zero for five years, the majority of FOMC members predict conditions may be ripe for monetary tightening only in 2015, when the US unemployment rate is projected to fall firmly below their 6.5 per cent threshold.

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