Top officials of the U.S. central bank are gathered in Washington, debating whether to raise short-term interest rates on Wednesday, and by how much.
Most economists expect the Federal Reserve to boost the benchmark rate a modest quarter of a percent, to a range between one and 1.25 percent.
The Fed cut rates nearly to zero at the worst of the financial crisis to make borrowing cheaper in a bid to boost economic growth and employment. Since then, the recovering economy and improved unemployment rate, at 4.3 percent, have prompted the central bank to gradually raise rates.
Officials worry that keeping rates too low for too long could spark a burst of inflation that could hurt the economy. The Fed’s job is to keep prices stable and encourage full employment. However, Tuesday’s newest data on inflation at the wholesale level shows little change. Fed officials have been trying to get inflation to rise to a low-but-manageable rate of about two percent.
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is scheduled to meet with journalists Wednesday afternoon, where she is likely to get questions about possible future interest rate hikes. She may also explain more about the Fed’s plans to gradually sell off the huge number of securities that the central bank bought during the financial crisis in a complex effort to stimulate the economy.
Meanwhile, officials will get new information on changes in consumer prices and retail sales before they make their decision on interest rates. Investors watch retail sales closely because consumer demand drives most U.S. economic activity.