Fed keeps interest rates unchanged, signals fewer future hikes

Wed Jun 15, 2016 6:08pm EDT
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By Jason Lange and Howard Schneider

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Reserve kept interest rates unchanged on Wednesday and signaled it still planned to raise rates twice in 2016, though it said slower economic growth would crimp the pace of monetary policy tightening in future years.

The central bank's decision to stick with its 2016 rate path, however, appeared shakier, with six of its 17 policymakers projecting just one increase this year. Only one Fed policymaker had done so when economic forecasts were last issued in March.

A sharp slowdown in U.S. hiring in May had fueled doubts about the strength of the labor market going into the Fed's two-day policy meeting. Fed Chair Janet Yellen acknowledged the need to see clear signs of economic strength before lifting rates.

"We do need to make sure that there's sufficient momentum," Yellen told a news conference.

The Fed also said the economy would grow only 2 percent this year and in 2017, 0.1 percentage point lower than previously forecast for each year.

It also cut its longer-term view of the appropriate federal funds rate, its benchmark lending rate, by a quarter point to 3 percent and indicated it would be less aggressive in raising rates after the end of this year.

Yellen was not clear on whether a rate increase could come at the next policy meeting in late July or whether the central bank would wait for a slew of firmer data as it headed into its September meeting.

"I'm not comfortable to say it's in the next meeting or two, but it could be," Yellen said. "It's not impossible that by July, for example, we would see data that led us to believe that we are in a perfectly fine course."   Continued...

U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen holds a news conference following the Fed’s two-day Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) policy meeting in Washington, June 15, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque