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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 May 2006, 19:01 GMT 20:01 UK
US rates raised to five-year peak
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The US Federal Reserve has raised interest rates for the 16th time in a row, to five-year highs of 5%.

Analysts had widely expected the Federal Open Market Committee to raise rates from 4.75% at its second meeting under new chairman Ben Bernanke.

In its accompanying statement the Fed hinted that it may take a brief pause in the current cycle of rate rises.

The "extent and timing" of further increases would depend on future economic data, the Fed said.

Analysts have said that the market is still having trouble deciphering Mr Bernanke's comments after 18 years of interpreting reports from previous chief Alan Greenspan.

'Misinterpreted'

Last month Mr Bernanke told Congress that rate rises could take a brief break from raising rates "at some point in the future" - even if risks from inflation were not entirely balanced.

The comments sparked hopes on Wall Street that a pause in rate increase could be imminent, however Mr Bernanke later complained to a reporter that his comments had been misinterpreted.

The Fed is facing a tough balancing act of keeping inflation in check while also dealing with forecasts of slower economic growth.

Recent data showed consumer prices had risen 0.3% in March to an annual rate of 2%, the top end of Federal targets.

Meanwhile, the latest US employment data underlined the prospect of a slowdown.

It showed a lower-than-expected 138,000 jobs were created in April, the lowest level since last October.

Uncertain future

Opinion is split over what the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) will decide to do next on the rates front.

One school of thought believes the central bank will stop raising rates, which have increased significantly from historic lows of 1% when the current rate-rise cycle began in June 2004.

Another believes the Fed will effectively pause for breath, taking time to examine incoming economic data, before deciding to raise rates once or twice later in the year.

However, a third group believes there will be no pause and the steady rise will continue unabated.


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