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Fed policymakers weighed April interest rate hike at March meeting

FederalReserve policymakers debated the merits of an interest rate hike during , according to the minutes ofthe Federal Open Market Committee's Marchmeeting, which concludedto keep the target range of its key federal funds rate between 25 and 50 basis points.

A potentialrate hike at the FOMC's meeting later this month left top Fed officials split, thoseminutes, which were released April 6, showed. Though they said incoming data betweenthe two meetings would ultimately sway their decision, officials staked out theirpositions and "expressed a range of views" about whether a hike wouldbe needed or not.

"Anumber of participants judged that the headwinds restraining growth and holdingdown the neutral rate of interest were likely to subside only slowly," theFed said in its summary of the March meeting discussion, and said that "severalexpressed the view that a cautious approach to raising rates would be prudent."It added that those policymakers said an April rate hike would signal an urgencythat they did not believe was appropriate.

Still,other officials at the meeting felt otherwise — including Federal Reserve Bank ofKansas City President and CEO Esther George, who ultimately voted against the policyaction and said she would prefer the central bank lift its targeted federal fundrate range an additional 25 basis points. Other officials indicated they could agreewith George as soon as April.

"Someother participants indicated that an increase in the target range at the Committee'snext meeting might well be warranted," the minutes read.

Thatpolicy outlook probably stemmed in part from data that showed improving labor marketsand core measures of inflation that had risen closer to the central bank's longer-run2% target. The committee also agreed that foreign financial conditions — one headwindpolicymakers had previously cited as an area of concern — had improved during theintermeeting period.