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Fed's interest-rate move wows Dow, but is also sign of plodding recovery

The Dow recovered almost 430 points Tuesday, after the Fed said it would keep short-term interest rates low until mid-2013. But the Fed's surprise move also points to expectations for slow recovery.

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“Maybe the [stock] buyers think the Fed not raising interest rates anytime soon is a vote of confidence in the market,” says Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at PFG Best, a brokerage house, in Chicago. “They must like the fact the Fed says it will not raise interest rates anytime soon.”

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Another factor helping the market was a major rally in the bond market, where the yield on the 10-year Treasury dropped to 2 percent, its lowest rate since the financial crisis of 2008.

Although the stock market soared, the Fed’s description of the economy was sobering, at best. The central bank said it has seen deterioration in the labor market in recent months, and it noted that consumer spending has flattened and the housing sector remains weak. The only positive sign the central bank cited was continued business spending on equipment and software.

Last month, the Fed blamed outside events, such as the tsunami and earthquake in Japan and floods in the Midwest, for economic weakness. Now it says such “temporary factors” account for only part of the economic weakness.

In its earlier economic assessments, the Fed had anticipated that the economy would pick up to about a 3.5 percent growth rate in the second half of 2011. Now the Fed is not so sure. It concluded, “downside risks to the economic outlook have increased.”

Even before the Fed’s announcement, Federal Reserve watchers assumed that the Fed would set the stage for another round of monetary stimulus. The yields on long-term Treasury bills had dropped in expectation of some future Fed action, says Doug Roberts of Channel Capital Research in Shrewsbury, N.J.

After Tuesday's announcement, Mr. Roberts said the fact that the Fed did not set the stage for another round of monetary easing was “very disappointing.”

At the end of June, the Fed ended a program called Quantitative Easing 2, to buy long-term government and agency securities in an effort to stimulate the economy. Some had hoped the Fed would initiate a QE3 program.

In its statement, the Fed said merely that it discussed the range of policy tools to promote stronger growth with low inflation in the future. “It will continue to assess the economic outlook in light of the incoming information and is prepared to employ these tools as appropriate,” it said.

The Fed’s actions were not unanimous. Three regional bank presidents voted against setting an actual date for how long interest rates would remain low.

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