WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve is meeting this week at a time of high alert — over the slumping US economy, the aftermath of the Greek elections, and shaky financial markets.
Whether that means it will disclose any new action when its two-day meeting ends Wednesday is not certain. But many analysts think the struggles of the US economy and the threats from Europe will compel the Fed to say or unveil something to try to boost confidence.
A major issue is Europe’s debt crisis. Do Fed officials think the Greek election results will help steady Europe’s economy because Greece now seems likely to remain in the euro currency union? Or do they worry that Europe’s crisis remains unresolved and could tip the global economy into recession?
Those concerns have flared just as US employers have reduced hiring. US retail sales and manufacturing output have weakened. The housing market is still far from healthy. Investors are edgy.
Many economists said that if the Fed announces any new step this week, the most likely would be to extend a program called Operation Twist, which is set to expire in two weeks.
Under the program, the Fed sells shorter-term securities and buys longer-term bonds. The goal is to further reduce long-term interest rates to encourage borrowing and spending.
Some analysts think the Fed’s policy makers might want to further assess the economic landscape before intervening. But even if the Fed decides against unveiling any new steps this week, it is expected to at least make clear it is willing to do more.
‘‘I think Fed officials will send a pretty decisive signal that they are prepared to provide more support to boost economic growth and lower unemployment,’’ said Brian Bethune, economics professor at Gordon College in Massachusetts.
If the Fed does unveil new action Wednesday, it might take a bolder step than Operation Twist. It might decide to expand its portfolio of securities through a third round of long-term bond purchases. If it did so, some analysts think the Fed would decide to buy mortgage securities and Treasury bonds to try to lower record-low mortgage rates even further to help revive the housing market.
Bethune thinks the Fed will wait until its next meeting at the end of July and that it will announce a third round of bond buying then.
Yet it is unclear whether any Fed action would help the economy much. Long-term US interest rates have already touched record lows. Businesses and consumers who are not borrowing now might not be moved to do so if rates slipped a bit more.
And Republican opponents of President Obama would be critical of a Fed move less than five months before US elections because it could be perceived as helping Obama win re-election.
One reason many analysts think the Fed may announce new action this week is that inflation is low. A gauge of US consumer prices fell in May by the most in nearly four years. When price increases slow, Fed officials generally become less concerned that super-low interest rates might ignite inflation.
Others caution that a step such as Operation Twist might offer little benefit, and not only because rates are already at historic lows. The Fed is running out of short-term Treasurys to swap for longer-term bonds.
Many investors favor another round of bond buying because they think it might lift the stock market as more investors shift money out of low-yielding bonds into stocks. They were disappointed by a recent congressional appearance by Bernanke, who sent no clear signal of the Fed’s next move.
The Fed chief spoke after the government issued a dismal jobs report for May. Bernanke said Fed officials need to see whether the economy can expand enough in coming months to accelerate hiring.