of 6.3 percent to 6.6 percent by the end of 2014, from a previous prediction of 6.4 percent to 6.8 percent.
Three policymakers expect the first rate rise to come in 2016, up from only two in September, while 12 of the Fed's 17 top officials still see the move in 2015. Futures markets do not see better-than-even odds of a rate hike until September 2015.
Critics of the bond buying, including some Fed officials, have worried the program could unleash inflation or fuel hard-to-detect asset price bubbles.
But some have credited the purchases with stabilizing an economy and banking system that had been crippled by the 2008 financial crisis and with staving off what could have been a damaging cycle of deflation.
One policymaker, Eric Rosengren of the Boston Fed, dissented against the decision, which he felt was premature given the still-high unemployment rate.
Bernanke stressed the Fed was not giving up on supporting the economy, and said it would take action if inflation failed to rise to the central bank's 2 percent target. Inflation as measured by the Fed's preferred price gauge rose just 0.7 percent in the 12 months through October.
Even so, recent growth in jobs, retail sales and housing, as well as a fresh budget deal in Congress, had convinced a growing number of economists the Fed would trim the bond purchases.
But many thought the central bank would wait until early in the new year, given persistently low inflation and the fact that the world's largest economy has stumbled several times in its crawl out of the 2007-2009 recession.