Fed raises key rate and foresees two more hikes this year


The Federal Reserve is raising its benchmark interest rate to reflect a solid US economy and signalling that it is sticking with a gradual approach to rate hikes for 2018 under new chairman Jerome Powell.

The Fed said it expects to increase rates twice more this year. At the same time, it increased its estimate for rate hikes in 2019 from two to three, reflecting an expectation of faster growth and lower unemployment.

The central bank boosted its key short-term rate by a modest quarter-point to a still-low range of 1.5% to 1.75% and said it will keep shrinking its bond portfolio.

Both steps show confidence that the economy remains sturdy nearly nine years after the Great Recession ended. The actions mean consumers and businesses will face higher loan rates over time.

The Fed's rate hike marks its sixth since it began tightening credit in December 2015. The action was approved 8-0, avoiding any dissents at the first meeting that Mr Powell has presided over as chairman since succeeding Janet Yellen last month.

Some investors had speculated that Mr Powell might move to impose his mark on the central bank by indicating a faster pace of rate hikes for 2018.

But the new economic forecast, which includes a median projection for the path of future rate hikes, made no change to the December projection for three hikes this year.

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% after five years of credit tightening.

Wednesday's forecast put the Fed long-term rate -- the point at which its policies are neither boosting the economy nor holding it back -- at 2.9%.

Speaking to Congress last month, Mr Powell said his "personal outlook" on the economy had strengthened since December, when the Fed's policymakers collectively forecast three rate hikes for 2018, the same as in 2017.

That comment helped send stocks tumbling because it suggested that the Fed might be about to accelerate the gradual pace it had pursued under his predecessor, Janet Yellen.

More aggressive rate increases would likely slow the economy and make stocks less appealing.