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Tumbling oil prices have strengthened rather than weakened the Federal Reserve's resolve to start raising interest rates around midyear even as volatile markets and a softening U.S. inflation outlook made investors push back the timing of the "liftoff".Interviews with senior Fed officials and advisers suggest they remain confident the U.S. economy will be ready for a modest policy tightening in the June-September period, while any subsequent rate hikes will probably be slow and depend on how markets will behave.Some of those interviewed stressed that in light of last year's strong jobs gains waiting until mid-year represented a cautious approach rather than an aggressive one, allowing the Fed to delay the rate liftoff if needed, particularly if inflation expectations turned sharply down.The Fed expects oil prices to eventually stabilize, the U.S. economy to keep growing despite weakness in Europe and elsewhere, and inflation to rebound in coming years.The Fed took a small step toward its first rate rise in nearly a decade last month, when rather than saying it would wait a "considerable time" with tightening it said it would be "patient" – a term Fed Chair Janet Yellen suggested meant it might move in April at the earliest.
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