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Fed holds rates at record lows to aid recovery

WASHINGTON - The Federal Reserve Tuesday repeated its pledge to hold interest rates at record lows to foster the economic recovery and ease high unemployment.

But the Fed's assessment of the economy at its meeting was a bit more upbeat. It said the job market is stabilizing. That was an improvement from its January statement, when it said the deterioration in the labor market was abating. It also said business spending on equipment and software has risen significantly, also an upgrade from its last assessment.

Still, the Fed cautioned that spending by consumers could be dampened by high unemployment, sluggish wage growth, lower wealth and tight credit. And it noted weakness in the commercial real estate and home-building markets.

"The Fed painted the economy in a slightly brighter shade," said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group. "It's been painted black for so long. Now it is a lighter shade of gray."

The Fed held its target range for its bank lending rate at zero to 0.25 percent, where it's been since December 2008. In response, commercial banks' prime lending rate, used to peg rates on certain credit cards and consumer loans, has remained about 3.25 percent - its lowest in decades.

Super-low rates benefit borrowers who qualify for loans and are willing to take on more debt. But they hurt savers. Low rates are especially hard on people living on fixed incomes who are earning scant returns on their savings.

The Fed's pledge to keep record-low rates for an "extended period" relieved investors.

- AP

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