U.S. Rates Remain Steady — For Now

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CB J — The U.S. Federal Reserve won’t raise interest rates this week, but will likely make clear that as long as American inflation and jobs continue to strengthen, economic weakness overseas won’t stop rates from rising fairly soon.

That will be a big change from the last time the Fed met, when uncertainty over the impact of slower growth in China and Europe drove policymakers to signal it would stay on hold until it could make a better call on the outlook.

That in turn was a setback from just a month earlier, when the Fed raised rates for the first time in nearly a decade and seemed ready to move four more times this year.

This week, fresh forecasts from the Fed’s 17 officials released after the meeting will almost certainly signal a retreat from that pace, to perhaps two or three rate hikes this year.

The expected downgrade may largely reflect the drag from the oil and stock market slide in January and the Fed’s decision then to put policy on hold, rather than mounting worries over the U.S. or global outlook.

Indeed, since the last Fed meeting U.S. inflation has shown signs of stabilizing, with one measure published by the Dallas Fed rising to 1.9 percent, its closest to the Fed’s 2% goal in 2-1/2 years. Meanwhile, the U.S. unemployment rate held at 4.9% in February, near the level many Fed officials believe represents full employment.

The European Central Bank’s decision last week to ease policy further may help add to confidence that action has been taken to underpin growth in Europe, helping ensure a stalling of global growth drag on the U.S.

That could mean another U.S. rate  hike by mid-year and, depending on economic data, more to come after that.


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