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US Central Bank Keeps Interest Rates Unchanged - 2003-12-09

The U.S. central bank, the Federal Reserve, Tuesday kept short-term interest rates at historic, 45-year lows, despite signs of rapid growth in the economy.

In keeping the overnight fed funds rate at one percent, the Federal Reserve said again that monetary policy can accommodate current economic growth rates for a considerable period of time. The words "considerable period of time" are interpreted by market participants as a sign that interest rates will not rise for at least two more months.

William Ford, the retired president of the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank, speculated on CNBC television that the Fed is setting the stage for modest interest rate hikes next year.

"You've got to watch this wording very carefully," he said. "Because this was a significant shift. No more talk about deflation, starting to say things are going well. Watch for them to say more things are going well as this recovery builds."

Bob Doll, a money manager at Merrill Lynch brokerage, agrees that the Fed is indicating that after more than two years of decline, short-term rates will eventually have to rise.

"What they're doing is creating a pattern," he said on CNBC television. "Slowly but surely acknowledging that deflation risks are going away. They're setting the stage for an increase in rates in the first half of next year."

After touching record highs in early 2000, equity markets in the United States went into a savage decline, with the broad market index (SP 500) falling nearly 50 percent, the worst bear market since the 1930s. The market touched a cyclical low in October of last year and has been rising strongly ever since. The U.S. economy, which endured a shallow recession in 2001, in the most recent three-month period grew at an eight percent annual rate, its best performance in 20 years.