Fed officials are concerned that the markets will misinterpret the introduction of tapering, as the impending move is popularly known, as a sign of a broader retreat. They are expected to discuss ways of reinforcing the Fed's continuing determination to encourage economic activity and job creation when the Federal Open Market Committee meets here Tuesday and Wednesday.
"The overwhelming incentive at this meeting is to dull the hawkish effects of tapering with more dovish communication," wrote Eric Green, head of rates, foreign exchange and commodities research at TD Securities. The Fed's message, he said, "has been ill defined and not internally consistent. The good news is that the F.O.M.C. has the opportunity to improve on that message."
The Fed under Mr. Bernanke has struggled for much of the last five years to find new ways of stimulating the economy beyond its base-line commitment since December 2008 to hold short-term interest rates near zero.
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Last year, officials announced an aggressive combination of asset purchases and forward guidance, both tied to improvement in the labor market. The Fed said it would buy $85 billion a month in Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities to jump-start job growth, and keep short-term rates near zero at least as long as the unemployment rate was above 6.5 percent. It was 7.3 percent in August.
In June, however, Mr. Bernanke surprised many investors by announcing that the Fed intended to reduce the volume of monthly purchases by the end of the year, and to end the purchases entirely by the middle of next year. An official account of the committee's most recent meeting in July affirmed that "almost all participants" favored Mr. Bernanke's timetable, provided that "economic conditions improved broadly as expected."
Investors have started to demand higher interest rates, driving up borrowing costs, and critics warn the Fed is pulling back too soon. The unemployment rate is down from 8.1 percent in August 2012, just before the Fed started the expansion of its bond portfolio. But roughly half the decline happened because more adults were not even trying to find jobs. The share of adults with jobs, down sharply during the recession, has yet to recover any of its losses.
Fed officials have emphasized in response that their policy decisions are forward-looking. Changes in monetary policy seep slowly through the economy — from the Fed through the banks into the decision-making of business and individual borrowers — and Fed officials have said they are convinced the economy will not need as much help in the next few years.
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Mr. Bernanke and his allies also face mounting pressure from internal critics who worry the modest benefits of asset purchases increasingly are outweighed by the risk that continued expansion of the Fed's holdings will disrupt financial markets — by encouraging speculation, by limiting the availability of some kinds of securities or by seeding inflation.
Many analysts predict that proponents of bond buying, also known as quantitative easing, will agree to cut the volume of monthly purchases initially by a small amount, perhaps as little as $10 billion.
"Concerns about the cost of Q.E. have reached a tipping point for the F.O.M.C., and Q.E. tapering will start even though the economic recovery remains tepid," wrote Kevin Logan, chief United States economist at HSBC Securities. Mr. Logan had predicted the change would happen in December, but said comments by Fed officials persuaded him September was more likely.