Thursday, June 24, 2010

Federal Reserve keeps rates at record lows

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve struck a more cautious tone about the strength of the U.S. economic recovery, indicating Europe's debt crisis poses a risk to it.
Wrapping up a two-day meeting Wednesday, the Fed in a 9-1 decision retained its pledge to hold rates at record-low levels for an "extended period." Doing so is intended to energize the rebound.

The Fed expressed confidence that the recovery will stay intact despite threats from abroad and at home. But Chairman Ben Bernanke and his colleagues offered a slightly more reserved outlook than the last time they convened.

The Fed said the economic recovery is "proceeding." That was a bit less upbeat than the view at the April meeting when the Fed said economic activity continued to "strengthen." The Fed also said the labor market is "improving gradually."

While not mentioning Europe by name, the Fed said "financial conditions have become less supportive of economic growth ... largely reflecting developments abroad."

The fragile economic picture increases pressure on President Barack Obama and lawmakers in Washington. Near-double-digit unemployment is certain to factor into the way Americans vote in congressional midterm elections this fall. If it fails to come down after that, the jobless rate could play a significant role in the 2012 presidential election.

At the same time, the president has limited options. Congress has run into opposition on extending unemployment benefits and providing more aid to cash-strapped states. While some liberal Democrats maintain that government spending is the best way to stimulate the economy, a growing number of moderate and conservative Democrats share Republican concerns that the government's exploding budget deficits pose a greater risk.

The subtle shift in the Fed's outlook drew little reaction from stock investors. The Dow Jones industrial average was essentially flat after the announcement.

One member dissents

The decision to keep rates at record lows boosted demand for safe-haven assets such as Treasurys, sending interest rates lower. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, a widely used benchmark for mortgages and other consumer loans, fell to 3.13 percent from 3.25 percent late Tuesday. The 10-year note hasn't closed at that level in more than a year. Rates had already fallen earlier in the day after the government said new-home sales dropped 33 percent last month.

(2 of 2)

Real Estate Outlook: After the CreditsHome construction fails to lift recovery