WASHINGTON - Federal Reserve officials announced yesterday after meeting for four hours that they had decided not to raise short-term interest rates.

Fed spokesman Joseph Coyne said no further details of the meeting by the 12-member Federal Open Market Committee would be made public.

Most economists were not expecting the panel to raise rates so soon after their Aug. 16 credit tightening, but traders in the bond market were anxiously awaiting word from the Fed. Analysts still expect Fed officials to raise rates again, if not in October then at the Nov. 15 meeting of the FOMC.

Earlier yesterday, the Conference Board reported that its consumer confidence index for August dipped to 88.4 in September from 90.4 in August, marking the third monthly decline in a row. The index is based on a 1985 reading that equals 100.

Fabian Linden, executive director of the board's consumer research center, said that despite the decline the overall reading for September suggested "a reasonably lively economy."

Donald Ratajczak, director of economic forecasting at Georgia State University, agreed. "Obviously, the fact that everyone is talking about interest rates going up and the stock market quivering is on people's minds, but at this point that doesn't affect consumer spending," he said.

When Fed officials voted to raise the federal funds rate to 4.75% from 4.25% in August, they signaled that they wanted to wait to assess the impact of their action on the economy. Since then, they have had little in the way of fresh economic statistics. Moreover, changes in rates do not take hold fully for many months. Accordingly, some economists do not believe the Fed will raise rates again before their next meeting on Nov. 15.

Eugene Sterling, director of research for M.A. Schapiro & Co., said the Fed would have undermined its credibility with the bond market if officials were perceived to be acting precipitously. "They want their statements to carry real force," he said.

However, Sterling said yesterday's two-year note auction by the Treasury would have gone better if officials had not held it on the day of an FOMC meeting, when traders were worried about a possible Fed tightening. The auction brought a yield of 6.55% for the notes, the highest since July 1991.

Robert Brusca, chief economist for Nikko Securities Co. International, said he expects the bond market to improve now that the FOMC meeting is out of the way. He predicted that lower oil prices will produce reassuring reports of small gains for the producer price index and the consumer price index in September.

Brusca also said political considerations are likely keep the Fed out of the money markets until after the elections. "I don't think they want to raise rates before the mid-term elections in November because the Democrats are going to lose their shirts, and the Fed doesn't want to get caught up in that and made into a scapegoat," he said.

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