ECONOMY

Fed further slows pace of bond buying, provides no clear signal of timing on first rate hike

The Federal Reserve says it will further slow the pace of its bond purchases because a strengthening U.S. job market needs less support. But it's offering no clear signal about when it will start raising its benchmark short-term rate.

Most economists think a rate increase is at least a year away despite signs of rising inflation. In a statement after a meeting, the Fed is reiterating its plan to keep short-term interest rates low "for a considerable time" after it ends its bond purchases, which have been intended to keep long-term loan rates low.

The Fed is also downgrading its forecast for growth for 2014, acknowledging that a harsh winter caused the economy to shrink in the January-March quarter. In addition, the Fed has barely increased its forecast for inflation.