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Update 2 p.m.: The Federal Reserve says it will reduce its $85 billion a month in bond purchases by $10 billion starting in January, citing a stronger U.S. job market. And it says it will take further steps to reduce the pace of the purchases next year if that improvement continues.
The reduction is a signal that Fed policymakers are ready to ease their massive support for the economy provided since the Great Recession. The bond purchases have helped keep long-term interest rates low to encourage more borrowing and spending.
To cushion to impact on financial markets, the Fed strengthened its commitment to record-low short-term rates. It says it plans to hold its key short-term rate near zero “well past” the time when unemployment falls below 6.5 percent.
12 p.m.: Investors are waiting to see whether one of Ben Bernanke’s final acts as chairman of the Federal Reserve will be to announce a pullback in the Fed’s bond purchases. The purchases have been intended to keep long-term loan rates low to spur economic growth.
It’s a close call.
But most economists think that when the Fed’s latest policy meeting ends Wednesday, it will announce that it’s maintaining its pace of $85 billion a month in bond purchases despite a drop in unemployment to 7 percent and other improving economic data.
One factor in the Fed’s hesitance to reduce its stimulus is that inflation remains historically low. The Fed’s optimal rate is 2 percent. For the 12 months ending in October, consumer inflation as measured by the Fed’s preferred index is just 0.7 percent, well below its target. The Fed is as concerned about under-shooting the inflation target as over-shooting it. Both are seen as threats to the economy.