WASHINGTON ó The Federal Reserve is changing its schedule for issuing policy statements, a shift that will give Chairman Ben Bernanke an opportunity to better control the message it sends to financial markets.
The Fed will now issue a statement at 2 p.m. Eastern time for all eight meetings. Four of those meetings will be followed by a Bernanke news conference at 2:30 p.m.
Prior to the change, nearly two hours passed between when the statement was issued and Bernankeís news conference began.
By reducing the time in between, Bernanke can more quickly manage how the statement is interpreted. Investors scrutinize the Fedís words for signals of when it might start raising interest rates.
The time changes will go into effect at the Fedís next meeting on March 19-20. Many economists believe Fed officials will maintain their low-interest rate policies at current levels but take no new steps at the March meeting.
In January, the Fed stood behind aggressive steps it launched in December to try to reduce unemployment.
It repeated that it would keep its key short-term interest rate at a record low at least until unemployment falls below 6.5 percent. And the Fed said it would keep buying Treasurys and mortgage bonds to help lower borrowing costs and encourage spending.
The unemployment rate fell to a four-year low of 7.7 percent last month, down from 7.9 percent in January when the Fed last met.
Some critics, including some regional Fed bank presidents, have expressed worries that the Fedís policies could hasten inflation. But Bernanke has sent signals recently that he plans to continue the Fedís aggressive policies until there is a substantial improvement in the job market.
The Fed only started to release brief policy statements after its meetings in 1994.
Before then, markets had to guess at the Fedís intentions on interest rates. In 2011, Bernanke went further by holding regular news conferences, a first for a Fed chairman.MORE IN World/National Business
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