U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) officials "could afford to be patient" with future rate hikes, according to the minutes of the Fed's latest monetary policy meeting released on Wednesday.
"(Meeting) Participants expressed that recent developments, including the volatility in financial markets and the increased concerns about global growth, made the appropriate extent and timing of future policy firming less clear than earlier," said the minutes of the Fed's Dec. 18-19 meeting.
Speaking of the market volatility, the Fed highlighted that "concerns over escalating trade tensions, global growth prospects, and the sustainability of corporate earnings growth" dragged the equity prices down.
The Fed raised the federal funds rate to a range between 2.25 to 2.5 percent after the latest policy meeting, adding that the rate was much closer to the neutral interest rate that neither boost nor cool down the economy.
"With an increase in the target range at this meeting, the federal funds rate would be at or close to the lower end of the range of estimates of the longer-run neutral interest rate," the Fed wrote in the minutes.
Even though market expected that the Fed was nearing the end of its rate hike cycle, Fed officials would like to be "patient" to see how the economy moves before making a decision.
"Against this backdrop, many participants expressed the view that, especially in an environment of muted inflation pressures, the Committee could afford to be patient about further policy firming," said the minutes.
Fed officials judged in the minutes that "some further gradual increases" in the rate would be consistent with current economic status, given "current economic expansion, strong labor market conditions, and inflation near 2 percent over the medium term."
However, the Fed had already lowered its projections on the number of rate hikes in 2019 from 3 to 2 during the latest rate hike announcement.
The Fed raised the federal funds rate four times in 2018. Since the beginning of this rate hike cycle in 2015, the central bank has conducted a total of nine rate hikes.