The Federal Reserve is expected to keep interest rates unchanged and to continue to extend its bond-buying program into at least the fourth quarter, Bloomberg reported.

Of 47 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News in late April, none predicted that the central bank will change the pace of its $85 billion per month asset purchase program, known as quantitative easing, or QE3.

The Federal Open Market Committee releases its statement at 1 p.m. today in Washington, D.C., following a two-day meeting, Bloomberg reported.Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will probably wait until the fourth quarter to reduce the monthly bond buying program to $50 billion from $85 billion, economists said in a Bloomberg survey. The central bank will probably leave its benchmark interest rate unchanged at 0.25 percent following the meeting.

The objective of quantitative easing is to spur new investment and consumption by buying bonds from banks in the open market to flood them with cash to lend, according to Jodi Beggs, a Boston economist who explains economics in layman's terms on her website.In contrast with the Fed's normal open-market operations, quantitative easing involves purchasing long-term rather than short-term bonds with the hope of lowering longer-term interest rates.

Many forecasters had thought a so-called summer slump in the economy would not happen this year, CBS MarketWatch reported. However, economic data since the Fed's last meeting six weeks ago suggests that the economy softened progressively during the first three months of the year.

"The quarter ended on a somewhat flat note," said Tom Simons, money market economist at Jefferies & Co.

The unemployment and retail sales data for March were disappointing. Inflation also weakened since the last Fed meeting, and economists expect more of the same over the next few months, increasing talk of deflation.