WASHINGTON — As the economic situation remained about unchanged from the fall, the Federal Open Market Committee agreed to a new round of asset purchases but was divided on how long to pursue the strategy, according to the minutes of the committee's Dec. 11-12 meeting, released Thursday.

After agreeing to continue purchasing mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $40 billion per month and longer-term Treasury securities at an initial pace of $45 billion per month after the final expiration of Operation Twist, members could not agree on how long that easing should go on.

"In considering the outlook for the labor market and the broader economy, a few members expressed the view that ongoing asset purchases would likely be warranted until about the end of 2013," the minutes state, "while a few others emphasized the need for considerable policy accommodation but did not state a specific time frame or total for purchases."

Some members held that purchases should stop well before 2013 ends, "citing concerns about financial stability or the size of the balance sheet." One member — Richmond Federal Reserve Bank President Jeffrey Lacker — opposed any new purchases at all.

Participants "generally agreed" that the housing market continued to recover. Hurricane Sandy was expected to weigh on economic growth in the fourth quarter of 2012, but members felt rebuilding could provide some temporary momentum early this year. Ongoing uncertainty about federal policy on spending and taxes continued to hamper economic growth as well, the committee observed.

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