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Updated 21 hours ago
WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve policymakers said at their latest meeting that another small hike in a key interest rate could come “fairly soon,” opening the door a bit wider to an increase next month, according to minutes of the meeting released Wednesday.
Fed officials reiterated their “considerable uncertainty” about the fiscal policies of the new Trump administration.
Still, many of them said “it might be appropriate to raise the ... rate again fairly soon” if the economy continues to improve as expected, according to minutes of the Jan. 31-Feb. 1 meeting that were released after the usual three-week delay.
The officials had voted unanimously at that meeting to keep the benchmark federal funds rate steady — at between 0.5 percent and 0.75 percent — after nudging it up in December for the first time in a year.
Several members of the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee said there was a high risk that the unemployment rate could fall too low, “particularly if economic growth was faster than currently expected,” the minutes said.
“If that situation developed, the committee might need to raise the federal funds rate more quickly than most participants currently anticipated to limit the buildup of inflationary pressures,” the minutes said.
Reflecting the potential for stronger growth in the wake of President Trump's election, Fed policymakers signaled at their December meeting that they planned to enact three quarter-percentage-point increases this year. In September they had forecast just two 2017 hikes.
Trump campaigned on a promise to cut taxes, reduce regulations and increase spending on defense and infrastructure, but few details have emerged so far.
Fed officials noted there was “considerable uncertainty” about the “timing and magnitude of the net effects of such changes to the economic outlook.”
Last week, Fed Chair Janet Yellen appeared to start preparing financial markets for a potential hike when policymakers next gather March 14-15.
She gave Senate and House lawmakers a largely upbeat view of the economy and said that another small rate increase could come “at our upcoming meetings.”
Before the minutes were released Wednesday, investors indicated there was about an 18 percent chance of a March rate hike, according to the CME Group futures exchange.
In December, Fed policymakers increased the rate's target range 0.25 of a percentage point. The Fed had kept the rate near zero during and after the Great Recession in hopes of stimulating the economy.
Economic growth is expected to improve in the first quarter of the year to more than a 2 percent annual rate, up from 1.9 percent in the fourth quarter of last year.
Job growth accelerated sharply in January. In a report released after the Fed's latest meeting, the Labor Department said the U.S. added 227,000 net new jobs, the most since September. The unemployment rate ticked up to 4.8 percent, largely because more people came off the sidelines to look for work.
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