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Fed says it will maintain its ‘patient’ approach to rate hikes

Christine Lagarde, David Cameron, Janet YellenChristine Lagarde, David Cameron, Janet Yellen
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen.Photograph by Alex Brandon — AP

A new policy statement released by the U.S. Federal Reserve Wednesday shows the central bank is essentially staying the course regarding a timeframe for an eventual interest rate hike.

The Federal Open Markets Committee concluded its two-day meeting with a public statement in which the committee reaffirmed its promise to remain “patient” on the issue of raising rates for the first time since 2006. Rates are expected to remain at their current level, which is near zero, until at least this summer and could be unmoved until even later in the year.

“Based on its current assessment, the committee judges that it can be patient in beginning to normalize the stance of monetary policy,” the FOMC said in its statement.

The committee noted that the U.S. economy “has been expanding at a solid pace” since the FOMC’s December meeting. The statement highlighted job gains and the unemployment rate’s continued decline as signs of an improving labor market while also noting that lower fuel prices have led to a rise in consumer spending. The committee said it expects the economy will continue to “expand at a moderate pace” and that inflation will continue to decline before eventually inching toward 2% “over the medium term” as labor conditions improve and the effects of low oil prices wane.

However, the committee added, any signs indicating “faster progress” toward the FOMC’s employment and inflation targets could trigger earlier action on interest rates, though an economic slowdown could also push the eventual action back further. The FOMC maintained its pledge to “take a balanced approach” with the interest rate decision, keeping in mind its goals of “maximum employment” and 2% inflation. And, even after the FOMC’s employment and inflation goals are reached, the committee expects that it could continue to maintain lower-than-normal interest rates “for some time.”

In the wake of the latest FOMC statement, Reuters reports that short-term interest-rate futures activity is already showing a majority of traders betting on October 2015 as a likely target for interest rates to rise.

Famed bond investor Bill Gross of Janus Capital told CNBC on Wednesday that he thinks the Fed will raise interest rates by 25 basis points around June in what he characterizes as a symbolic move.

—Reuters contributed to this report.