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Fed Rate Increase is 3rd This Year     12/14 06:14

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Federal Reserve is raising its key interest rate for 
the third time this year and foresees three additional hikes in 2018, a vote of 
confidence that the U.S. economy remains on solid footing 8 years after the 
end of the Great Recession.

   The Fed said Wednesday that it's lifting its short-term rate by a modest 
quarter-point to a still-low range of 1.25 percent to 1.5 percent. It is also 
continuing to slowly shrink its bond portfolio. Together, the two steps could 
lead over time to higher loan rates for consumers and businesses and slightly 
better returns for savers.

   The central bank said in a statement after its latest policy meeting that it 
expects the job market and the economy to strengthen further. Partly as a 
result, it expects to keep raising rates at the same incremental pace next year 
under the leadership of Jerome Powell, who will succeed Janet Yellen as Fed 
chair in February.

   Chris Probyn, chief economist at State Street Global Advisors, said he was 
surprised that Fed officials upgraded their forecast for economic growth next 
year and lowered their forecast for unemployment yet signaled no additional 
rate hikes.

   "They're saying, 'We're going to get more growth, we're going to get lower 
unemployment, but we're not going to respond to it with any more tightening,'" 
he said. "They are prepared to let the economy run a little hotter."

   Investors took Wednesday's widely anticipated rate hike in stride, with the 
Dow Jones industrial average setting another record-high close.

   Asked whether she was concerned that the Fed's prolonged low rates might be 
fueling a stock bubble, Yellen said she thought the market's gains had been 
supported by a sturdy U.S. and global economy. She said that if stock prices 
were to suddenly "adjust" downward, the economy and the financial system should 
be able to withstand it.

   "When we look at other indicators of financial stability risks, there's 
nothing flashing red there or possibly even orange," Yellen said.

   The Fed's rate decision Wednesday was approved 7-2, with Charles Evans, 
president of the Fed's Chicago regional bank, and Neel Kashkari, head of the 
Minneapolis Fed, voting no. Both preferred to keep the benchmark rate unchanged.

   The central bank's message Wednesday departed little from its recent 
statements. It still stresses that it expects to keep raising rates gradually. 
Its projections for future hikes, based on estimates of 16 officials, showed 
that the median expectation remains three rate hikes in 2018, at least two in 
2019 and two more in 2020.

   By then, the Fed's target for short-term rates would have reached 3.1 
percent --- slightly above its estimate of a long-term neutral rate of 2.8 
percent. That would mean the Fed would still be seeking to tighten credit three 
years from now.

   At a news conference after the Fed's meeting, Yellen said she would work to 
provide a smooth transition for Powell. Powell has been a Yellen ally who 
backed her cautious stance toward rate hikes in his five years on the Fed's 
board. Yet no one knows for sure how his style of chairmanship or rate policy 
might depart from hers.

   What's more, Powell will be joined by several new Fed board members who, 
like him, are being chosen by President Donald Trump. Some analysts say they 
think that while Powell might not deviate much from Yellen's rate policy, he 
and the new board members will adopt a looser approach to their regulation of 
the banking system.

   On Wednesday, the Fed boosted its forecast for growth to 2.5 percent next 
year, up from a previous forecast of 2.1 percent. But it then foresees growth 
slowing to 2.1 percent in 2019 and 2 percent in 2020. Those rates are far below 
the 3 percent to 4 percent growth that the Trump administration insists would 
result from its economic policies of tax cuts, deregulation and stricter 
enforcement of trade laws against unfair foreign imports.

   The Fed modified its forecast to take into account that unemployment has 
fallen lower this year than it had expected. For the next two years, the Fed 
projects that unemployment will decline from the current 4.1 percent to 3.9 
percent in 2018 and 2019 and then tick up to 4 percent in 2020.

   It also expects inflation to rise from 1.7 percent this year to 1.9 percent 
in 2018 and 2 percent in 2019. The Fed's inflation target is 2 percent, But the 
rate has puzzlingly remained below that level for more than five years.

   Even before Wednesday, most analysts had said they thought the 
still-strengthening U.S. economy would lead the Fed to raise rates three more 
times next year. A few, though, have held out the possibility that a Powell-led 
Fed will feel compelled to step up the pace of rate hikes as inflation finally 
picks up and the economy, perhaps sped by the proposed Republican tax cuts, 
begins accelerating.

   At his Senate confirmation hearing last month, Powell impressed his 
listeners as an evenhanded moderate who favored the kind of incremental stance 
toward rate hikes that both Yellen and her predecessor, Ben Bernanke, embraced. 
A Senate committee approved Powell's nomination and sent it to the full Senate, 
where his confirmation is considered certain.

   Besides Powell, Trump has so far chosen two new members for the seven-member 
board. And he has the opening to nominate three more, including a Fed vice 
chair.

   Trump has made clear that he favors low rates. But he has also expressed a 
desire to pull back on many of the regulations that were imposed on banks after 
the 2008 financial crisis. Trump and many Republicans argue that those 
regulations are too burdensome, especially for smaller banks. Powell himself 
has sent some signals that he agrees.


(KA)

 
 
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