The minutes revealed a debate inside the Fed about when the bank should resume purchases of Treasurys after it ends it balance-sheet runoff... Several wanted to resume purchases "relatively soon," the minutes showed, but "some" preferred to let the average level of reserves decline naturally for awhile in the hopes that it would give the Fed a sense of underlying demand by banks.

The outcome of such a debate, though arcane, is important. Some outside critics contend the Fed balance-sheet process contributed to the stock-market meltdown in December. Senior Fed officials want to make sure whatever they do reduces instability in the U.S. financial system.

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