Fed orders quarter-point rate hike at first meeting under Powell

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The Federal Reserve voted to increase rates by 25 basis points, marking the sixth rate hike since 2015. The statement described economic activity as rising at a "moderate rate", a slight downgrade from January, when the Fed described the economy as rising at a "solid rate".

If the Fed does stick with its new forecast for three rate increases this year and three in 2019, its key policy rate would stand at 3.4 percent after five years of credit tightening.

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But among Fed officials meeting in Washington Tuesday and Wednesday, Powell says, "There's no thought that changes in trade policy should have any effect on the current outlook". With growth picking up and unemployment low, policymakers expect core inflation - which excludes the food and energy categories - to rise 2.1 percent in 2019 and 2020.

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Some hints may come when Powell and members of the Federal Open Market Committee release their revised economic forecasts. The Committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant further gradual increases in the federal funds rate; the federal funds rate is likely to remain, for some time, below levels that are expected to prevail in the longer run. But it did boost its 2019 estimate from two hikes to three. "That's why we are seeing a bit of a disappointment on the dollar side", said Minh Trang, senior foreign currency trader at Silicon Valley Bank in Santa Clara, California.

The Fed has been raising rates slowly since 2015, moving the United States away from the ultra-low levels put in place following the financial crisis.

The average rate on a five-year Treasury-indexed adjustable-rate mortgages is now about 3.67 percent, according to Freddie Mac.

In determining the timing and size of future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate, the Committee will assess realized and expected economic conditions relative to its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation.

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In its latest projections, the Fed Wednesday boosted its outlook for economic growth this year, lowered its forecast for unemployment slightly and kept its inflation projection unchanged.

The Fed's statement did not mention the extra government stimulus that has been added since its most recent economic forecast in the form of a $1.5 trillion tax cut and a budget agreement that will add $300 billion in government spending over two years.

Investors are cautious as they await the outcome of the U.S. Federal Reserve's first meeting under its new chairman, Jerome Powell, and his subsequent news conference. The Fed is also watching for signs that inflation is coming closer to the central bank's target of 2%.

In view of realized and expected labor market conditions and inflation, the Committee chose to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 percent.

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