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  1. Business

Fed officials link rate increase to economic data

WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve officials, worried about weak growth overseas, agreed last month they would begin raising interest rates only when measures of the economy's health and inflation signaled the time was right.

Minutes of the Fed's discussions at its Sept. 16-17 meeting released Wednesday showed that officials expressed rising worries about lackluster growth in Europe and slowing growth in Japan and China.

The U.S. stock market surged after the minutes' release; investors appeared to take the revealed discussion as a sign the Fed was in no hurry to raise interest rates. The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 274.83 points, or 1.6 percent — its biggest gain of 2014 — to close at 16,994.22. The Standard & Poor's 500 index added 33.79 points, or 1.8 percent, to 1,968.89. The Nasdaq composite index rose 83.39 points, or 1.9 percent, to 4,468.59.

"The markets like the news that there is no urgency on the part of Fed officials to stop doing what they are doing," said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank in New York.

Fed officials also discussed the potential adverse impacts of a stronger dollar; the dollar has gained strength recently against the euro, yen and British pound. A stronger dollar makes U.S. goods more expensive overseas and foreign goods cheaper in the United States, a development that can dampen inflation.

"Some participants expressed concern that the persistent shortfall of economic growth and inflation in the euro area could lead to a further appreciation of the U.S. dollar and have adverse effects on the U.S. external sector," the minutes said.

At the meeting, the Fed voted 8-2 to keep its key short-term interest rate at a record low near zero and retained language that it expected the rate to remain at that level for a "considerable time" after it ends monthly bond purchases.

Many participants indicated that they wanted to clarify that monetary policy changes would be closely linked to the country's economic performance.

The Fed has emphasized that the timing of an interest rate increase will depend on officials' views of how close the economy is to achieving the Fed's goals for maximum employment and inflation running at an annual rate of 2 percent.

For the past two years, inflation has been running well below 2 percent, giving the Fed room to keep rates at a record low in an effort to bolster the economy and generate jobs. The government reported last week that the unemployment rate in September fell to a six-year low of 5.9 percent, closer to the Fed's goal of an unemployment rate in a range of 5.2 to 5.5 percent.

The consensus view among private economists is that the first rate increase will not occur until about June. The Fed's short-term rate has been at a record low near zero since December 2008.

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