Washington It could be quite a while yet before the Federal Reserve starts raising the interest rates it’s kept at record lows for three years.
Maybe not before 2014.
That’s the thinking of many analysts as the Fed prepares this week to provide more explicit clues about how long short-term rates will likely stay near zero.
Starting when their policy meeting ends Wednesday, Fed members plan to forecast the direction of those rates four times a year. The clearer guidance will accompany the Fed’s usual quarterly predictions of growth, unemployment and inflation.
The new hints about rates are part of a Fed drive to make its communications with the public more transparent. The more immediate goal is to assure consumers and investors that they’ll be able to borrow cheaply well into the future.
No announcements are expected Wednesday of any further Fed action to try to lift the economy. Most analysts think Fed members want to put off any new steps, such as more bond purchases, to see if the economy can extend the gains it’s made in recent months.
That’s true even though this year’s new roster of voting members on the Fed’s policy panel suggests that fewer voters would likely oppose further steps to boost the economy. Twice last year, Fed action to try to further lower long-term rates drew three dissenting votes out of 10.
Instead, expectations are focused on the likelihood that the Fed’s first quarterly forecast of interest rates will signal no rate increase is probable until at least 2014. That would mark a shift. Since August, the Fed has said in policy statements that it planned to keep its benchmark rate at a record low until at least mid-2013, as long as the economy remained weak.
Here’s why analysts expect the Fed to signal that most members see no increase before 2014:
On Wednesday, the Fed will use two charts to signify the thinking of each of its 17 policy committee members about rates.
One chart will illustrate how high each committee member thinks the Fed’s benchmark rate will be at the end of 2012, 2013 and 2014.
A second chart will show how many members think the first rate increase will occur in each year from 2012 through 2016.
The charts won’t identify any member by name.
Because the range of options extends as far as 2016, many analysts think the consensus view within the Fed is to avoid any rate increase before 2014 — the average of the possible options.
“Just seeing that the choice of a year for the first hike in the Fed funds rate goes all the way out to 2016 makes us think there are at least a few members of the committee who don’t want to raise rates until the unemployment rate gets back down to 5 percent or 6 percent,” said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi.