Feds raise benchmark interest rate as US economy improves


Yet Wall Street will let bygones be bygones this week as the Fed looks set to raise interest rates by another quarter point.

A robust February jobs report - 235,000 added jobs, solid pay gains and a dip in the unemployment rate to 4.7 percent - added to the perception that the economy is fundamentally sound.

"The Committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant gradual increases in the federal funds rate", the Fed said in a statement announcing the rate hike. "This is really a simple decision".

"The data have not notably strengthened", the Federal Reserve Chair said during her March 15 press conference after the central bank raised interest rates for just the third time since the financial crisis. Inflation has nearly hit the Fed's target rate of 2 percent, and we've seen steady job gains for 77 months in a row - two key metrics that mitigate a rate hike in order to prevent an overheated economy and keep the dollar from getting so strong that it hurts exports.

Although inflation is "close" to the Fed's 2% target, it noted that goal was "symmetric", indicating a possible willingness to allow prices to rise at a slightly faster pace.

Analyst Robert Halver with Baader Bank said: "With the economy improving a rate increase is doable, but what's much more important is what comes next".

The message the Fed sent today is that almost eight years after the Great Recession ended, the economy no longer needs the support of ultra-low borrowing rates and is healthy enough to withstand steadily tighter credit.

And too many prime-age workers remain outside the labour force and too many part-time workers were struggling to find full-time employment, she added.

"It is a case of "sell the rumor (of a rate hike), buy the fact", said Ross Norman chief executive officer at Sharps Pixley, told MarketWatch by email from London after the announcement.

January also saw a decline in personal consumption, with warm weather depressing utility bills, and industrial production, not to mention disappointing auto sales and falling housing starts. But with Donald Trump's election victory, the Times said, companies in manufacturing and other industries "have become more confident about the outlook since late a year ago, at least in part because of hopes that tax cuts and other favorable policies will be coming from the new Trump administration and his party that controls Congress".

"Near-term economic risks were seen as "roughly balanced".

"Don't lose sight of where we are now".

Because the rate hike is expected, its effects are likely to be muted. That also means that a stronger dollar cuts the worth of holding gold that's priced in the currency and doesn't offer a yield.

The unemployment rate dropped to 4.7% from 4.8% in January, just a notch above its decade low, while hourly wages for all private-sector workers rose six cents last month on average, but still up from the 5-cent gain the prior month and up 2.8% from February of previous year.