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Fed Keeps Key Interest Rate Steady     07/27 13:15

   The Federal Reserve is keeping interest rates unchanged while noting that 
near-term risks to the economy have diminished.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Federal Reserve is keeping interest rates unchanged 
while noting that near-term risks to the economy have diminished.

   The Fed said Wednesday that the U.S. job market has rebounded, with strong 
job gains in June after a slump in May. But it said in a statement after its 
latest policy meeting that it still plans to monitor global economic threats 
and financial developments to ensure that they don't slow the economy.

   The central bank gave no hint of when it might resume the rate hikes it 
began in December, when it raised its benchmark rate from a record low.

   Some economists think a hike is possible in September, if hiring remains 
solid and the turbulence that followed Britain's vote to leave the European 
Union continues to stabilize.

   The decision to leave its key rate unchanged in a range of 0.25 percent to 
0.5 percent was approved on a 9-1 vote. Esther George, the president of the 
Fed's Kansas City regional bank, dissented for the third time this year, 
arguing for an immediate quarter-point rate hike.

   The more positive tone in this statement, compared with the previous 
statement in April, will likely raise expectations that the central bank could 
be ready to boost rates at it September meeting if the economy keeps improving.

   "Near-term risks to the economic outlook have diminished," the Fed said.

   But it repeated a previous pledge to "continue to closely monitor inflation 
indicators and global economic and financial developments."

   A few months ago, it was widely assumed that the Fed would have resumed 
raising rates by now. But that was before the U.S. government issued the bleak 
May jobs report and Britain's vote last month to quit the EU triggered a brief 
investor panic. Since then, though, a resurgent U.S. economy, the bounce-back 
in hiring and record highs for stocks have led many economists to predict a Fed 
move by December if not sooner.

   In June, employers added 287,000 jobs, the most since October 2015. But 
uncertainty about the global economic consequences of Britain's exit from the 
EU remains.

   In December, when the Fed raised its benchmark rate from a record low near 
zero, it also laid out a timetable for up to four additional rate hikes this 
year. But as 2016 began, intensified fears about China's economy and a plunge 
in oil prices sent markets sinking and led the Fed to delay further action.

   Once the markets stabilized, the Fed signaled a likely rate increase by 
midyear. Anemic hiring in April and May, though, raised concerns, and it left 
rates alone. The central bank was also affected by Britain's forthcoming vote 
on whether to leave the EU, anticipation of which had rattled investors.

   When Britain did vote to leave the union and markets sank, some economists 
even suggested that the Fed's next move might be to cut, rather than raise, 
rates. Now, though, the pendulum has swung back, especially after the arrival 
of a reassuring June jobs report. The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index had 
plunged 5.3 percent in the two trading days after Britain's vote. It has since 
regained all those losses --- and set new highs.

   The economy is also picking up after the year's anemic start. Stronger 
consumer spending is thought to have lifted growth, as measured by the gross 
domestic product from the January-March quarter to the April-June quarter, with 
further acceleration expected later this year. In the spring, consumers boosted 
spending at the fastest pace in a decade. Economists also foresee a lift from 
business investment, reflecting a rebound from cutbacks in the energy sector.

   All that strength might argue for September rate hike, especially if monthly 
job growth equals as least 200,000 between now and then. Still, the risks of 
raising rates again too soon and possibly choking off economic activity may 
seem greater to the Fed than the risks of waiting longer. It has room to 
accelerate its rate increases if the economy were to heat up so much as to 
ignite high inflation.

   Before Wednesday's statement was issued, according to data from the CME 
Group, investors foresaw only about a 27 percent probability of a Fed rate hike 
by September and about a 52 percent chance by December.


(KA)

 
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