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Fed: Economy Is 'Expanding Moderately,' But No Change In Rates

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke during his news conference this afternoon.
Win McNamee
Getty Images
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke during his news conference this afternoon.

The economy "has been expanding moderately, notwithstanding some slowing in global growth" in recent weeks, the Federal Reserve just reported.

In a statement timed for release at the end of their most recent meetings, Fed policymakers also said they expect economic growth in coming quarters "to be modest," that the jobless rate will "decline only gradually" and that inflation will run "at ... or below" levels the central bank wants to see.

So, the policymakers announced, they expect to keep interest rates at the current incredibly low levels — and may need to do so "at least through late 2014."

One way of looking at all that: While the economy is getting better, things aren't going to be really rolling — and threatening to send inflation higher — anytime soon.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is due to take questions from reporters at 2:15 p.m. ET. We'll update with news from that session.

Update at 3:23 p.m. ET. "Fiscal Sustainability":

Bernanke's news conference just ended. The last question was aimed to get him to weigh in on the debate over whether taxes should be raised and spending should be cut to bring the government's deficits down. Bernanke did not go into specifics, but restated what he's said before: that it's time for lawmakers to take actions that will "achieve fiscal sustainability," while also being "sensitive to the effect of policy decisions on a still fragile [economic] recovery."

Update at 3:02 p.m. ET. Bernanke Doesn't Think Fed Will Make Americans Feel Less Confident:

By saying it will likely keep interest rates low through late 2014, could the Fed be signalling to Americans that it's worried about the economy — and thus hurt the economy by dealing a blow to business and consumer confidence?

Making sure rates are low to spur businesses to hire and to spur would-be home buyers to look for houses, Bernanke says, "ultimately is more powerful" than any signals that consumers or businesses may think they see from the Fed's announcement.

Update at 2:45 p.m. ET. High Unemployment Would Make Fed More Cautious On Inflation:

The Fed has dual mandates — price stability and maximum employment — Bernanke says. "If unemployment were very high it would lead us to be more cautious" about how hard to squeeze the economy in a bid to hold down inflation. But he stresses that the Fed's goal remains to do what's best to achieve both its goals.

Update at 2:40 p.m. ET. Admittedly, Forecasting Can Be A "Best Guess":

"Our ability to forecast three and four years out is obviously very limited," Bernanke says, after being asked about how confident he is in the Fed's longer-term forecasts. "Nevertheless, we have to make a best guess [and a] provisional plan."

Update at 2:32 p.m. ET. Some "Encouraging News," But "Headwinds" Still Blowing:

Asked about recent signs that the economy is picking up steam, including some job growth, Bernanke says there has "certainly been some encouraging news recently." But, he adds, there have been "mixed results in some other areas," including retail sales, and there are "headwinds emanating from Europe."

Update at 2:25 p.m. ET. The Fed's Economic Projections:

As Bernanke speaks, the Fed has released some charts showing what the central bank's 17 policymakers think will happen in coming months and years.

They express the policymakers' consensus as "central tendencies." This year, they're expecting growth between 2.2 percent and 2.7 percent, with an unemployment rate that stays around the current 8.5 percent or just below. Inflation is expected to remain below 2 percent.

The jobless rate is forecast to slip to between 7.4 percent and 8.1 percent next year, and to between 6.7 percent and 7.6 percent in 2014.

Update at 2:20 p.m. ET. The Goal Is 2 Percent Inflation:

Bernanke has begun is news conference. During his opening statement, he just said that the Fed believes a 2 percent inflation rate is just about right for the economy — not too fast, not too slow.

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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