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Besides updating its outlook for 2013, 2014 and 2015, the Fed will offer its first economic predictions for 2016.

These numbers will be watched for any hint that the Fed has grown more or less optimistic. More optimism could mean the Fed feels the economy could handle future rate increases relatively soon. Less optimism could signal that any rate increases remain further off.

BERNANKE NEWS CONFERENCE

This will be a major event — and not just because it will likely follow the Fed’s announcement of a pullback in bond buying. It’s also Bernanke’s next-to-last news conference as chairman before his term ends Jan. 31. (His final news conference will follow the Fed’s last meeting of the year in mid-December.) Early this week, Lawrence Summers withdrew from consideration for the chairman’s job, leaving the Fed’s vice chair, Janet Yellen, as the leading candidate. Obama could announce his choice later this month.

As always, Bernanke will use his news conference to try to clarify any decisions the Fed announces. He’s surely hoping for a more positive response than he drew at his June news conference. There, he said he’d been “deputized” by his colleagues to describe a possible path toward slowing the bond purchases. Bernanke said the slowdown would likely start before year’s end and be completed by mid-2014.

He stressed that any Fed moves to scale back its support would hinge on how the economy fares. But investors didn’t hear such assurances. They responded in panic to the prospect that the Fed would soon reduce its support for the economy. The Dow Jones industrial average sank 560 points in two days.

MARKET REACTION

Investor response to a pullback in bond purchases is expected to be mild if the Fed announces a slight reduction of around $10 billion a month. That’s particularly true if the Fed balances its move by underscoring its commitment to keep its benchmark rate low far into the future.

Economists generally think the Fed has done enough, through comments from Fed officials, to prepare the markets for the start of a modest and gradual reduction in bond purchases.

Yet if the Fed’s initial move to trim the purchases is larger than investors expect, watch out. The reaction could be turbulent. And if the Fed surprises everyone and decides against trimming its bond purchases at all?

The markets may just rally.