Today is the last meeting of the Federal Reserve under the chairmanship of Alan Greenspan, who has led the central bank for more than 18 years, and the Fed is expected to raise U.S. interest rates for a 14th straight time.

Additionally, the U.S. Senate is expected to confirm former Fed Governor Ben Bernanke as the next chairman today, clearing him to take office on Wednesday.

Bernanke joins the Fed at a time when the office has been raising rates consistently and the housing market appears to be normalizing or perhaps heading for a slowdown.

The Federal Reserve Bank’s rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee began meeting at 9 a.m. EST, an official told Reuters. A decision on interest rates is expected around 2:15 p.m., together with a statement on the U.S. central bank’s analysis of economic conditions and the level of policy accommodation.

After their last rate rise on Dec. 13, officials said higher borrowing costs would “likely” be needed, Reuters said, and analysts expect the Fed will push up overnight rates another quarter-percentage point to 4.5 percent.

The meeting may or may not mark the end of a 19-month-long rate-rise campaign, but it will without question mark the end of Greenspan’s 18-1/2 years in office.

The U.S. Senate is expected to confirm former Fed Governor Ben Bernanke as the next chairman during the day, clearing him to take office on Wednesday.

“Our guess is that Greenspan will try to leave his successor with as clean a slate as possible,” Lou Crandall of Wrightson ICAP wrote in an analysis for clients, Reuters reported.

When the Fed began to push up the overnight federal funds rate 19 months ago, it stood at a 1958 low of 1 percent. The benchmark rate is now at 4.25 percent, close to a level many economists say neither spurs nor weighs on economic activity.

***

Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to janis@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 140.

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