By Ovunc Kutlu
The Federal Reserve increased its benchmark interest rate as widely expected, the Federal Market Open Committee (FOMC) announced Wednesday.
At the conclusion of a two-day meeting, Committee members voted unanimously to raise the federal funds rate by 25 basis points to a target range of 1.75 percent to 2 percent.
It marked the second rate hike for the year and the seventh since December 2015. The central bank made three rate hikes last year and one in December 2016.
The Committee said in a statement it expects gradual increases in the rate that will be consistent with sustained economic activity, strong labor market conditions and inflation near the Fed's 2 percent target in the medium term.
"Risks to the economic outlook appear roughly balanced," the statement said.
The FOMC also increased growth projections of the U.S. economy for this year to 2.8 percent, from the previous estimate of 2.7 percent in March.
Economic forecast for 2019 and 2020 was kept unchanged at 2.4 percent and 2 percent, respectively.
The unemployment rate projections were also lowered to 3.6 percent for 2018 and 3.5 percent for 2019. Previous estimates were 3.8 percent for this year and 3.6 percent for next year.
Fed Chair Jerome Powell, who succeeded Janet Yellen in February, said in a press conference after the FOMC's announcement that he is considering to hold news conferences after every Committee meeting starting next year.
"Having twice many press conferences does not signal anything about the timing or pace of future interest rate changes. This is about improving communication," he said.
Yellen held press conferences quarterly -- at the conclusion of the March, June, September and December FOMC meetings.
The FOMC will hold its next meeting July 31 - Aug. 1.