WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve on Wednesday acknowledged that the economy slowed down at the end of last year and maintained that it expects to raise interest rates gradually.

In a unanimous vote, the nation’s central bank kept the target range for its benchmark interest rate unchanged between 0.25 percent and 0.5 percent, as expected.

An official statement noted that exports and inventory investment have been weak, while low oil and commodity prices have pushed down inflation. And it alluded to the recent turmoil in financial markets that have spurred doubts about whether the Fed will keep hiking interest rates this year.

The Fed is “closely monitoring global economic and financial developments and is assessing their implications for the labor market and inflation, and for the balance of risks to the outlook,” the statement read.

However, the central bank emphasized the resilience of the job market in the wake of a slowing economy. Consumer spending has also remained strong, and government data released Wednesday showed new home sales surged in December, capping what was the best year since 2007.

Trading had been jumpy on Wall Street ahead of the Fed’s statement, with stocks opening sharply lower before reversing course.

Financial markets are not the only potential speed bump for the Fed. One of the central bank’s main goals is to keep inflation steady at about 2 percent – and it is woefully short of that mark. On Wednesday, the Fed said it anticipates inflation will remain low in the short term but reiterated its confidence that the effects of falling oil and commodity prices are “transitory.”

Still, the Fed said it will assess both the “actual and expected progress” of inflation in setting policy – cautionary language that suggests the longer inflation remains below target, the more likely the Fed will have to adjust its expectations for raising rates.

The Fed also on Wednesday updated its broader policy strategy to indicate that it would be concerned about inflation running both above and below its 2 percent goal.

In December, the central bank took the historic step of raising its benchmark interest rate for the first time in nearly a decade. The move was intended to be the initial step in the delicate process of withdrawing its unprecedented support for the American economy.

But market volatility coupled with lower forecasts for economic growth at home and abroad this year have prompted many analysts to question whether the Fed will forge ahead. The most recent central bank forecasts – which Fed watchers call “dot plots” – showed that officials anticipated raising the target rate four times this year. Now, some investors are doubting that they will move even once.

“The Fed has to ‘talk down’ its own dot plots without causing more panic in markets,” said John Canally, chief economic strategist for LPL Financial.

In addition, the global economy appears to be slowing down as China struggles to transition from export-driven growth to a more sustainable pace led by consumers. The International Monetary Fund earlier this month reduced its prediction for the pace of the world’s expansion this year to 3.4 percent, down 0.2 percentage points.

The Commerce Department on Friday is slated to publish the official government tally of economic growth during the final months of 2015. Private forecasts indicate the recovery likely slowed to an annualized growth rate of less than 2 percent, though some show it may not crack 1 percent.

During the 2008 financial crisis, the central bank slashed its benchmark rate to zero and began pumping money into the economy to arrest the downturn. The Fed spent the next seven years propping up the nation’s recovery through ultralow interest rates and a $3.5 trillion stimulus program known as quantitative easing.

The efforts have been widely credited with helping to spur a rebound in real estate and fostering a stronger job market. At 5 percent, the unemployment rate is half of the peak reached in 2009, and the pace of hiring has surpassed expectations over the past year.

But many workers have yet to enjoy an increase in their paychecks, and broader economic growth is muted despite the Fed’s aggressive stimulus. The major U.S. stock indexes were logging record highs less than a year ago, but now they, too, are under pressure.

Fed officials have emphasized that their policy decisions will depend on the health of the recovery. If it proves stronger than expected, the central bank may raise rates more quickly than forecast. But if the economy stumbles, the Fed could draw out the process even longer.

“There is no commitment here,” New York Fed President William Dudley said earlier this month. “The flow of the data – broadly defined – will drive our actions.”


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