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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 November, 2004, 20:30 GMT
US interest rates increased to 2%
Fed chairman Alan Greenspan
Alan Greenspan says the economy is growing at a moderate pace
US interest rates are to rise for the fourth time in five months, in a widely anticipated move.

The Federal Reserve has raised its key federal funds rate by a quarter percentage point to 2% in light of mounting evidence that the US economy is regaining steam.

US companies created twice as many jobs as expected in October while exports hit record levels in September.

Analysts said a clear-cut victory for President Bush in last week's election paved the way for a rise.

Another rise could be in store for December, some economists warned.

Measured approach

The Fed's Open Market Committee - which sets interest rate policy in the US - voted unanimously in favour of a quarter point rise.

The Fed has been gradually easing rates up since the summer, with quarter percentage point rises in June, August and September.

US car factory
Underlying productivity is robust, the Fed says

The Central Bank has been acting to restrain inflationary pressures while being careful not to obstruct economic growth.

The Fed did not rule out raising rates once again in December but noted that any future increases would take place at a "measured" pace.

In a statement, the Fed said that long-term inflation pressures remained "well contained" while the US economy appeared to be "growing at a moderate pace despite the rise in energy prices".

Financial analysts broadly welcomed the Fed's move and shares traded largely flat.

The Dow Jones Industrial average closed down 0.89 points, or 0.01%, at 10,385.48.

Wait and see

Recent evidence has pointed to an upturn in the US economy.

US firms created 337,000 jobs last month, twice the amount expected, while exports reached record levels in September.

The economy grew 3.7% in the third quarter, slower than forecast, but an improvement on the 3.3% growth seen in the second quarter.

Analysts claimed the Fed's assessment of future economic growth was a positive one but stressed that the jury was still out on the prospect of a further rise in December.

I think the Federal Reserve does not want to rock the boat
Sung Won Sohn, Wells Fargo Bank

"Let's wait until we see how growth and employment bear up under the fourth quarter's energy price drag before concluding that the Fed has more work to do in 2005," said Avery Shenfeld, senior economist at CIBC World Markets.

Continuing concerns

"I think the Federal Reserve does not want to rock the boat and is using a gradual approach in raising the interest rate," said Sung Won Sohn, chief US economist for Wells Fargo Bank.

"The economy is doing a bit better right now but there are still some concerns about geopolitics, employment and the price of oil," he added.

The further rise in US rates is unlikely to have a direct bearing on UK monetary policy.

The Bank of England (BoE) has kept interest rates on hold at 4.75% for the past three months, leading some commentators to argue that rates may have peaked.

In a report published on Wednesday, the Bank said that with rates at their current level, inflation would rise to its 2% target within two years.

However, BoE governor Mervyn King warned only last month that the era of consistently low inflation and low unemployment may be coming to an end.


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