Fed likely to signal rate hike on track despite global woes

A sturdy US recovery is expected to trump global economic worries as the Federal Reserve concludes its last policy meeting of 2014 on Wednesday, with officials likely to signal they are still on track to raise interest rates next year.

Washington: A sturdy US recovery is expected to trump global economic worries as the Federal Reserve concludes its last policy meeting of 2014 on Wednesday, with officials likely to signal they are still on track to raise interest rates next year.

With oil prices in freefall, Japan in recession and the euro zone sputtering, the Fed for a second meeting running will weigh the US economy`s apparent strength against overseas risks that now include a potential currency crisis in oil exporter Russia. 

Recent statements by Fed officials have kept the emphasis on upbeat US economic signs, including strong job creation and an uptick in consumer spending, and economists say the latest global throes are unlikely to change that focus.

In addition, the drop in oil prices cuts two ways - threatening oil-dependent economies like Russia while providing a boon to others.

Lower oil prices are considered a plus for US economic growth in the long run, but pose an immediate drag on inflation and may trim jobs and investment in the energy industry.

"Russia is going to have absolutely no influence on the Fed whatsoever," said Paul Ashworth, chief US economist for Capital Economics. "The collapse in oil prices is unambiguously good for the US economy."

Attention will focus on just how strongly the Fed voices its faith in US prospects, and in particular whether it drops its longstanding view that it would wait a "considerable time" before raising rates. Most economists expect the phrase to be jettisoned.

The drop in oil prices is expected to slow progress toward the Fed`s 2 percent inflation goal, leaving officials in a possible quandary over how to characterize an economy that is growing steadily but showing less evidence of durable wage and price increases.

The recent flow of positive domestic news "is beginning to provide the necessary justification for the Fed to begin consideration of the start of monetary policy tightening," TD Securities economist Millan Mulraine said in a recent note to clients.

Economists expect the US central bank, which has held overnight rates near zero since late 2008, to begin bumping benchmark borrowing costs higher around the middle of next year.

The Fed will issue its policy statement and updated economic and interest rate projections at 2 p.m. (1900 GMT). Fed Chair Janet Yellen will hold a news conference a half hour later.

In a statement after its last meeting in October, the Fed largely looked beyond problems in Europe and Japan and expressed confidence the United States would continue to grow and generate jobs.

Wednesday`s statement will provide an indication of whether the economic troubles plaguing Europe and Japan and the threat of a currency run in Russia are likely to delay the Fed`s plan to raise rates.

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