WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve officials are meeting this week for the first time under their new chairman, Jerome Powell, whose news conference to follow is stirring high anticipation.

The Fed is set to announce its first interest rate increase of the year, a testament to the continued strength of the economy and of the job market in particular.

Once its meeting ends at 2 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday, the Fed will issue a policy statement and update its economic projections. Here’s what to watch for:


The Fed’s policy statement will likely announce its latest rate hike – its sixth since December 2015 and the first since December of last year. The CME Group, which tracks investor expectations of Fed actions, puts the likelihood of a rate hike at 94 percent.

For seven years beginning in late 2008, the Fed had kept its benchmark rate at a record low near zero. The idea was to help encourage borrowing and spending and nurture the economy’s recovery from the financial crisis and the Great Recession.


But for more than two years now, it has been gradually raising its key rate to bring it closer to historically normal levels. Yet the pace of credit tightening has been so gradual that even after five rate hikes, the Fed’s benchmark rate remains in a still-low range of 1.25 percent to 1.5 percent.

Wednesday’s statement will also provide the Fed’s latest descriptive assessment of the economy.


The Fed updates its economic forecasts four times each year. This week’s updates, its first since December, could predict faster growth, lower unemployment and a pickup in inflation, which has remained below the Fed’s 2 percent target level for the past six years.

One reason the Fed may upgrade its economic predictions from December: Its previous forecast was devised before Congress approved a $1.5 trillion tax cut that President Trump pushed through Congress in late December.

The outlook will include a new “dot plot,” the collection of views of all Fed officials on the appropriate pace for future rate hikes.


By fielding questions from reporters after the meeting, Powell will be following a tradition begun by Ben Bernanke and continued by Janet Yellen, for the Fed’s leader to hold a news conference four times a year. The news conferences, which last about an hour, are dissected by global investors for any clues to the Fed’s thinking that might go beyond the typically bland language in its policy statement.

Powell, a Fed board member since 2012, earned solid reviews for his handling of two days of questions before Congress when he delivered the Fed’s semiannual monetary report last month.

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