WASHINGTON — Members of the Federal Open Market Committee said economic data continues to be in line with their expectations, as they emphasized flexibility is needed to expand or rein in asset purchase programs and to “remain alert” to the long-term inflation outlook, according to minutes from the Fed’s Dec. 15-16 monetary policy meeting.

Fed members said economic growth strengthened in the fourth quarter and firms are reducing payrolls at a less rapid pace. The downside risks to the economic outlook “diminished a bit further,” the minutes said.

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