WASHINGTON (AP) - In a major shift, the Federal Reserve will start updating the public four times a year on how long it plans to keep short-term interest rates at record lows, according to minutes from its December policy meeting.
The first forecast will be included in the central bank's economic projections after its Jan. 24-25 meeting, the minutes said.
The change is the Fed's latest move to make its communication more open and explicit. It could help assure investors, companies and consumers that rates won't rise before a specific time. This might help lower long-term yields further - in effect providing a kind of stimulus.
The Fed has left its key short-term rate near zero for the past three years. In August, it that it plans to leave it there until at least mid-2013, unless the economy improves.
After its Dec. 13 meeting, the Fed issued a policy statement that portrayed the U.S. economy as improving slightly. The central bank declined to take any additional steps to boost growth.
In January, the Fed will release an interest rate forecast for the fourth quarter of 2012 and for the next few calendar years, the minutes show. It will update that forecast four times a year.
The minutes also suggest the Fed could be poised to launch a new step to invigorate the economy. Some members favored bolder action but said they wanted to wait until the more explicit communication policy was in place.
The plan to forecast interest rates follows a historic decision last year to have Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke hold news conferences four times a year. Bernanke has also done a number of interviews and sought other changes to make the Fed's decision-making process more transparent.
Fed to Regularly Forecast Interest-Rate Changes