Officials see an economy gaining strength but still fragile. By Jerome Idaszak, Contributing Editor March 16, 2010 The Federal Reserve is still playing wait and see on interest rates. Nothing the policymakers are saying following the most recent meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) changes our view that interest rate hikes are still months away.We look for a rate increase no sooner than the Nov. 2-3 FOMC meeting, right after Election Day. Our best guess is that hike will be followed by another quarter-point increase in December. Until then, the fed funds rate, which banks charge each other on overnight loans, will remain near zero, where it has been since December 2008. The rate is an important benchmark for many businesses and households, and the prime rate typically marches in lockstep with it. Looking at the economy, the FOMC broke little new ground in its post-meeting statement, repeating most of its statement from January. Among the few changes, the Fed cites a labor market that is “stabilizing,” while housing construction is “flat at a depressed level.” The most widely watched language remains the same as the past several months: Referring to interest rates, the FOMC says the fed funds rate will be “exceptionally low…for an extended period.” That language at the FOMC meeting in January brought one dissenting vote, and it brought one dissent this time around, too. For weekly updates on topics to improve your business decisionmaking, click here.