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Fed rate increase is 3rd this year; foresees 3 more in 2018

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve is raising its key interest rate for the third time this year and foresees three additional hikes in 2018, a vote of confidence that the U.S. economy remains on solid footing 8½ years after the end of the Great Recession.

The Fed said Wednesday that it’s lifting its short-term rate by a modest quarter-point to a still-low range of 1.25 percent to 1.5 percent. It is also continuing to slowly shrink its bond portfolio. Together, the two steps could lead over time to higher loan rates for consumers and businesses and slightly better returns for savers.

The central bank said in a statement after its latest policy meeting that it expects the job market and the economy to strengthen further. Partly as a result, it expects to keep raising rates at the same incremental pace next year under the leadership of Jerome Powell, who will succeed Janet Yellen as Fed chair in February.

Chris Probyn, chief economist at State Street Global Advisors, said he was surprised that Fed officials upgraded their forecast for economic growth next year and lowered their forecast for unemployment yet signaled no additional rate hikes.

“They’re saying, ‘We’re going to get more growth, we’re going to get lower unemployment, but we’re not going to respond to it with any more tightening,’” he said. “They are prepared to let the economy run a little hotter.”

Investors took Wednesday’s widely anticipated rate hike in stride, with the Dow Jones industrial average setting another record-high close.

Asked whether she was concerned that the Fed’s prolonged low rates might be fueling a stock bubble, Yellen said she thought the market’s gains had been supported by a sturdy U.S. and global economy. She said that if stock prices were to suddenly “adjust” downward, the economy and the financial system should be able to withstand it.