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Mainstream Model 3 Could Make or Break Tesla Dreams

For Tesla, everything is riding on the Model 3.

The electric car company’s newest vehicle was delivered to its first 30 customers, all Tesla employees, Friday evening. Its $35,000 starting price, half the cost of Tesla’s previous models, and range of up to 310 miles (498 km) could bring hundreds of thousands of customers into the automaker’s fold, taking it from a niche luxury brand to the mainstream. Around 500,000 people worldwide have reserved a Model 3.

Those higher sales could finally make Tesla profitable and accelerate its plans for future products like SUVs and pickups.

Or the Model 3 could dash Tesla’s dreams.

Much could go wrong

Potential customers could lose faith if Tesla doesn’t meet its aggressive production schedule, or if the cars have quality problems that strain Tesla’s small service network. 

The compact Model 3 may not entice a global market that’s increasingly shifting to SUVs, including all-electric SUVs from Audi and others going on sale soon. And a fully loaded Model 3 with 310 miles of range costs a hefty $59,500; the base model goes 220 miles (322 km) on a charge.

Limits on the $7,500 U.S. tax credit for electric cars could also hurt demand. Once an automaker sells 200,000 electric cars in the U.S., the credit phases out. Tesla has sold more than 126,000 vehicles since 2008, according to estimates by WardsAuto, so not everyone who buys a Model 3 will be eligible.

“There are more reasons to think that it won’t be successful than it will,” says Karl Brauer, the executive publisher for Cox Automotive, which owns Autotrader and other car buying sites.

Always part of Tesla plans

The Model 3 has long been part of Palo Alto, California-based Tesla’s plans. In 2006, three years after the company was founded, CEO Elon Musk said Tesla would eventually build “affordably priced family cars” after establishing itself with high-end vehicles like the Model S, which starts at $69,500. This will be the first time many Tesla workers will be able to afford a Tesla.

“It was never our goal to make expensive cars. We wanted to make a car everyone could buy,” Musk said Friday. “If you’re trying to make a difference in the world, you also need to make cars people can afford.”

Tesla started taking reservations for the Model 3 in March 2016. Musk said more than 500,000 people have put down a $1,000 deposit for the car. People ordering a car now likely won’t get it until late 2018. Cars will go first to employees and customers on the West Coast; overseas deliveries start late next year, and right-hand drive versions come in 2019.

Challenges to deliver

But carmaking has proved a challenge to Musk. Both the Model S and the Model X SUV were delayed and then plagued with pesky problems, like doors that don’t work and blank screens in their high-tech dashboards.

Tesla’s luxury car owners might overlook those problems because they liked the thrill of being early adopters. But mainstream buyers will be less forgiving.

“This will be their primary vehicle, so they will have high expectations of quality and durability and expect everything to work every time,” said Sam Abuelsamid, a senior researcher with Navigant Research.

The Model 3 was designed to be much simpler and cheaper to make than Tesla’s previous vehicles. It has one dashboard screen, not two, and no fancy door handles. It’s made primarily of steel, not aluminum. It has no instrument panel; the speed limit and other information normally there can be found on the center screen. It doesn’t even have a key fob; drivers can open and lock the car with a smartphone or a credit cardlike key.

‘Manufacturing hell’

Still, Musk said he’s expecting “at least six months of manufacturing hell” as the Model 3 ramps up to full production. Musk wants to be making 20,000 Model 3s per month by December at the carmaker’s Fremont factory.

Musk aims to make 500,000 vehicles next year, a number that could help Tesla finally make money. The company has only had two profitable quarters since it went public in 2010. But even at that pace, Tesla will remain a small player. Toyota Motor Corp. made more than 10 million vehicles last year.

Abuelsamid said even if it doesn’t meet its ambitious targets, Tesla has done more than anyone to promote electric vehicles.

“A decade ago they were a little more than golf carts. Now all of a sudden, EVs are real, practical vehicles that can be used for anything,” he said.

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Mexico City Floating Farms, Chefs Team Up to Save Tradition

At dawn in Xochimilco, home to Mexico City’s famed floating gardens, farmers in muddied rain boots squat among rows of beets as a group of chefs arrive to sample sweet fennel and the pungent herb known as epazote.

 

By dinnertime some of those greens will be on plates at an elegant bistro 12 miles (20 kilometers) to the north, stewed with black beans in a $60 prix-fixe menu for well-heeled diners.

 

Call it floating-farm-to-table: A growing number of the capital’s most in-demand restaurants are incorporating produce grown at the gardens, or chinampas, using ancient cultivation techniques pioneered hundreds of years ago in the pre-Columbian era.

 

While sourcing local ingredients has become fashionable for many top chefs around the globe, it takes on additional significance in Xochimilco, where a project linking chinampa farmers with high-end eateries aims to breathe life and a bit of modernity into a fading and threatened tradition.

 

“People sometimes think [farm-to-table] is a trend,” said Eduardo Garcia, owner and head chef of Maximo Bistrot in the stylish Roma Norte district. “It’s not a trend. It’s something that we humans have always done and we need to keep doing it, we need to return to it.”

Xochimilco, on the far southern edge of Mexico City, is best-known as the “Mexican Venice” for its canals and brightly colored boats where locals and tourists can while away a weekend day listening to mariachi music and sipping cold beers.

 

It has also been a breadbasket for the Valley of Mexico since before the Aztec Empire, when farmers first created the “floating” islands bound to the shallow canal beds through layers of sediment and willow roots.

 

There’s nothing quite like it anywhere else in the world, and Xochimilco is designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.

 

But that World Heritage status and Xochimilco itself are threatened by the pollution and encroaching urbanization that plague the rest of the sprawling metropolis.

 

Enter Yolcan, a business that specializes in placing traditionally farmed Xochimilco produce in Mexico City’s most acclaimed restaurants Those include places like Gabriela Camara’s seafood joint Contramar and Enrique Olvera’s Pujol, which is perhaps the country’s most famous restaurant and regularly makes lists of the world’s best.

 

Yolcan has been around since 2011, but it’s only in the last year that business has really taken off with the number of restaurant partners increasing by a third during that period to 22. Last month five of them teamed up with Yolcan for dinner to benefit chinampa preservation.

The company directly manages its own farmland and also partners with local families to help distribute their goods, lending a much-needed hand as an intermediary.

 

“The thing about the chinampa farmer is that he does not have the time to track down a market or a person to promote his product,” said David Jimenez, who works a plot in the San Gregorio area of Xochimilco. “Working the chinampas is very demanding.”

 

All told Yolcan’s operation covers about 15 acres (6 hectares) and churns out some 2.5 tons of produce per month. Due to the high salinity of the soil drawn from canal beds, the straw-covered chinampa plots are particularly fertile ground for root vegetables and hearty greens like kale and chard.

Diners reserve weeks in advance for a coveted table at Maximo Bistrot, one of three restaurants Garcia runs. Meticulously prepared plates of chinampa-grown roasted yellow carrots with asparagus puree arrive at the table, accompanied by sea bass with green mole sauce and wine pairings in tall glasses.

Garcia estimated he gets about two-thirds of his ingredients from Yolcan or other organic farms nearby. He was born in a rural part of Guanajuato state where his family raised corn and largely ate what they grew, so sourcing local is second-nature.

 

“I think all of the world’s restaurants should make it a goal to use these alternative ingredients,” Garcia said, stirring a pot of beans flavored with the aromatic epazote herb. “Even though it’s a little more expensive, a little more difficult to find.”

 

Chinampa produce generally sells for 15 to 100 percent more than comparable goods at the enormous Central de Abasto, the go-to wholesale market for nearly all of Mexico City’s chefs that is so monolithic its competition sets prices across the country.

 

But chefs who buy from Yolcan are happy to pay a premium knowing they’re getting vegetables free of chemical fertilizers or pesticides and also supporting a centuries-old tradition.

 

Diners at Maximo Bistrot also said they enjoyed their meal, especially the burrata with chinampa-grown heirloom tomatoes. One couple said they are willing to pay the prices of these high-end eateries in order to have the best produce.

 

“We’ve eaten in 26 countries around the world, and for the price and quality, this was awesome,” said Kristin Kearin, a 35-year-old masseuse from United States. “I honestly think that using small producers is going to come back.”

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US Treasury’s Mnuchin Extends Debt Limit Measure for Two Months

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday said he would extend for two more months one of the extraordinary cash management measures that the Treasury is using to stave off a debt-limit default.

Mnuchin said in a letter to House of Representative Speaker Paul Ryan that he would continue to withhold investments from the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund, until Sept. 29.

The Treasury’s previous “debt issuance suspension period” for the federal employee pension fund was due to expire on Friday.

Mnuchin had to take the step because Congress has not passed an extension or increase in the federal debt limit, and the Treasury needs to withhold funds from the pension fund in order to preserve its borrowing capacity. It has taken several similar measures since the last extension of the debt limit expired in March at just under $20 trillion.

Mnuchin urged lawmakers this week to act on the borrowing limit before their August recess, but his request fell on deaf ears. The House of Representatives is on recess until Sept. 5.

Mnuchin and fiscal watchdog groups have estimated that the Treasury will fully exhaust its remaining borrowing capacity in October, raising the risk that the United States cannot meet all of its payment obligations with incoming tax revenue.

The Treasury is required by law to make the pension fund whole, including interest, when the debt limit is increased.

In testimony before the House Financial Services Committee on Thursday, Mnuchin said that Congress’ budgeting process, including the role the debt limit plays, “needs to be looked at.”

“I’m all for [that] there should be very strong controls of spending money. But once we’ve agreed to spend the money, we should make sure that the government can pay for it,” Mnuchin said.

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More Cyber Attacks, More Job Security for Hackers

The surge in far-flung and destructive cyber attacks is not good for national security, but for an increasing number of hackers and researchers, it is great for job security.

The new reality is on display in Las Vegas this week at the annual Black Hat and Def Con security conferences, which now have a booming side business in recruiting.

“Hosting big parties has enabled us to meet more talent in the community, helping fill key positions and also retain great people,” said Jen Ellis, a vice president with cybersecurity firm Rapid7 Inc., which filled the hip Hakkasan nightclub Wednesday at one of the week’s most popular parties.

More tech, more jobs

Twenty or even 10 years ago, career options for technology tinkerers were mostly limited to security firms, handfuls of jobs inside mainstream companies, and in government agencies.

But as tech has taken over the world, the opportunities in the security field have exploded.

Whole industries that used to have little to do with technology now need protection, including automobiles, medical devices and the ever-expanding Internet of Things, from thermostats and fish tanks to home security devices.

More insurance companies now cover breaches, with premiums reduced for strong security practices. And lawyers are making sure that cloud providers are held responsible if a customer’s data is stolen from them and otherwise pushing to hold tech companies liable for problems, meaning they need security experts too.

1.8 million skilled workers needed

The nonprofit Center for Cyber Safety and Education last month predicted a global shortage of 1.8 million skilled security workers in 2022. The group, which credentials security professionals, said that a third of hiring managers plan to boost their security teams by at least 15 percent.

For hackers who prefer to pick things apart rather than stand guard over them, an enormous number of companies now offer “bug bounties,” or formal rewards, for warnings about vulnerabilities that leave them exposed to criminals or spies.

​New ways to make money

One of the outside firms that handle such programs, HackerOne, said it has paid out $18.8 million since 2014 to fix 50,140 bugs, with about half of that work done in the past year.

Mark Litchfield made it into the firm’s “Hacker Hall of Fame” last year by being the first to pull in more than $500,000 in bounties through the platform, well more than he earned at his last full-time security job, at consulting firm NCC Group.

In the old days, “The only payout was publicity, free press,” Litchfield said. “That was the payoff then. The payoff now is literally to be paid in dollars.”

There are other emerging ways to make money too. Justine Bone’s medical hacking firm, MedSec, took the unprecedented step last year of openly teaming with an investor who was selling shares short, betting that they would lose value.

It was acrimonious, but St Jude Medical ultimately fixed its pacemaker monitors, which could have been hacked, and Bone predicted others will try the same path.

“Us cyber security nerds have spent most of our careers trying to make the world a better place by engaging with companies, finding bugs which companies may or may not repair,” Bone said.

“If we can take our expertise out to customers, media, regulators, nonprofits and think tanks and out to the financial sector, the investors and analysts, we start to help companies understand in terms of their external environment.”

Chris Wysopal, co-founder of code auditor Veracode, bought in April by CA Technologies, said that he was initially skeptical of the MedSec approach but came around to it, in part because it worked. He appeared at Black Hat with Bone.

“Many have written that the software and hardware market is dysfunctional, a lemon market, because buyers don’t know how insecure the products they purchase are,” Wysopal said in an interview. “I’d like to see someone fixing this broken market. Profiting off of that fix seems like the best approach for a capitalism-based economy.”

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Lawmakers: Ross Defers to Trump on US Steel Tariff Timing

U.S. lawmakers said on Thursday that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told them he will defer to President Donald Trump on the timing of a decision on new steel import curbs, likely meaning further delays and deliberations on the issue.

Members of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee attending a briefing with Ross said he did not specify a timetable for releasing a long-awaited report that will lay out options for shielding the steel industry from imports on national security grounds.

Ross had originally hoped to release the steel “Section 232” report at the end of June but the timing has slipped amid disagreements among White House aides over the merits of restricting imports that could hurt steel consuming industries.

A House Democratic aide who attended the briefing said Ross repeated President Donald Trump’s comments in a Wall Street Journal interview this week that the decision on potential steel tariffs would take more time and could come after congressional debates on health care, tax reform and infrastructure spending.

“I can only follow my leader,” the aide said Ross told the briefing.

The Commerce secretary also told lawmakers the issue had a lot of complexities and that he was considering the interests of both steel makers and steel users and concerned about potential trade retaliation against U.S. agricultural products. The lawmakers said Ross told them he was taking a similar approach to a parallel national security probe into aluminum imports.

“I think it’s a good sign that they’re actually slowing down and taking a long look, not trying to mix this in with these other issues that have to be lifted,” said Republican Representative Jackie Walorski.

“I think that Secretary Ross is committed to making sure that we’re doing no harm, that we’re getting this right. I need it to be right when it comes to aluminum,” Walorski said, adding that the recreational vehicle industry in her northern Indiana district does not want to higher aluminum prices due tariffs.

Representative Judy Chu, a California Democrat, said Ross told the lawmakers that the Trump administration also wanted to pursue negotiations with other steel-producing countries to address the problem of excess capacity that was causing a flood of dumped imports.

But Ross and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin last week failed to secure commitments from their Chinese counterparts to make specific commitments to cut steel production capacity.

China, which produces half the world’s steel, is widely viewed as the source of much of the metal’s excess production.

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US Republicans Kill Border Tax, Focus on Corporate Rate Cuts

A proposed border tax in the House of Representatives was killed on Thursday, bringing relief to retailers and other large importers whose profits faced threats and removing a hurdle that had kept negotiations on the long-promised Republican overhaul of the U.S. tax code from advancing.

The border adjustment tax was part of a broad reform of the tax code being pushed by House Republican leaders. It was meant to discourage companies from manufacturing products overseas and then importing them into the United States for sale instead of producing goods in the U.S.

The tax would have generated roughly $1 trillion in revenue, allowing tax-code writers to slash the corporate tax rate without increasing the nation’s deficit.

Removing the controversial provision could make it easier to pass tax legislation, but likely narrows the scope of what could become law. It suggests Republicans are more likely to implement simple rate cuts and not accomplish sweeping tax reform on the scale of the last major overhaul in 1986, such as moving to a territorial tax system, in which companies would pay tax only on profits earned in the United States.

Without a new source of revenue, it will make it more difficult for Republicans to make tax code changes permanent and deficit-neutral. The Republicans are looking to use rules that would require passage of a tax bill only with a simple majority – meaning they would not need any Democratic votes. Those rules restrict creating long-term deficits, so if the bill is not deficit-neutral the tax cuts would likely carry an expiration date.

The group of six Republican negotiators working on tax reform on Thursday did not announce any agreement on their target for corporate rate cuts – a signal that tax lobbyists said shows continuing divisions among Republicans about the closely watched rate.

Corporate profits are currently taxed at 35 percent, but President Donald Trump wants them slashed to 15 percent, which he says will promote business spending, economic growth and job creation.

“While we have debated the pro-growth benefits of border adjustability, we appreciate that there are many unknowns associated with it and have decided to set this policy aside in order to advance tax reform,” the “Big Six” Republican tax negotiators said in a joint statement.

Large retailers and other importers had lobbied aggressively against the border tax proposal, including a coalition that included automakers like Toyota and stores like Target , Autozone and Best Buy.

The retailers argued that the border tax would drastically increase consumer prices, hitting low- and middle-class households the most.

The Big Six is comprised of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Gary Cohn, the head of the National Economic Council – both representing Trump – House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the heads of the two tax-writing committees in Congress, Senator Orrin Hatch and Representative Kevin Brady.

In addition to killing the border tax, the group offered other vague goals but no details, saying they remain committed to increased expensing for corporations, or allowing them to write off the cost of new equipment more quickly, and to return profits held by American companies overseas, known as repatriation, at a lower tax rate than the current 35 percent.

The statement offered no specific goals or targets on the personal income tax code.

“We have always been in agreement that tax relief for American families should be at the heart of our plan,” the Big Six said.

Trump has vowed to finish a tax overhaul by the end of this year.

Republicans leaders in Congress are hopeful that the current debate on repealing and replacing Obamacare, which is now before the Senate, can be completed quickly, allowing Congress to then turn its attention to the tax code.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce praised the announcement as progress toward an ultimate goal of overhauling the code.

“We’re pleased, but we’re not satisfied until we get an outcome,” said Neil Bradley, the head of policy for the business group.

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After Drought, California Looks to Replenish Aquifers

At the Terranova Ranch near Fresno, California, general manager Don Cameron examines grapes in a vineyard that workers flooded last spring.

Winter rains had ended a severe drought and he was engaged in “groundwater recharge,” returning unused water from the North Fork of the Kings River to an underground aquifer, the source of irrigation for this region. Some were skeptical because he was flooding a working vineyard and not a special basin designed for the purpose.

“We’ve been through a five-year drought,” Cameron explained. “Our groundwater has been depleted during that period, and long term, we want to rebuild what we’ve lost.”

Recharging groundwater on fields that are in production was a test, and the vines were closely monitored. They held up well to the thousands of cubic meters of water that flooded the fields and percolated down to nature’s underground storage system.

A research team led by hydrologist Helen Dahlke at the University of California, Davis, wants to test this concept throughout the Central Valley.

California produce

The 50,000-square-kilometer swath of California farmland produces one-quarter of the food for Americans, and 40 percent of their fruits, nuts and vegetables.

The Terranova Farm grows 25 crops, from tomatoes to onions, and Cameron wants to see how other crops respond to the winter flooding. He is expanding the farm’s recharge project with help from a $5 million grant from the California state government, and envisions recharge efforts at farms around the state.

Aquifers are like a banking system, says Graham Fogg, a UC Davis geologist and water expert who says depleted aquifers have three times the available storage capacity of surface reservoirs. “If you’re looking for places to store water, it’s a no-brainer,” he said.

The idea of groundwater banking took root in the 1990s, when water authorities such as the Semitropic Water Storage District near Bakersfield, California, created exchange systems to credit farmers for surplus water returned to canals and reservoirs when it is not needed.

Farmers later use that water instead of pumping water from the ground. The district also floods recharge basins to let the water seep down to replenish the aquifer.

Surface and groundwater are parts of the same system, says district general manager Jason Gianquinto, “so we can take advantage of the wet years and put a lot of water in storage and then fall back on the groundwater in the dry years.”

Groundwater measures

In 2014, California legislators imposed restrictions on pumping groundwater and gave local authorities until 2020 to implement measurements and controls.

The law aims to stop aquifer depletion within two decades and create a record of groundwater use, something already seen in many other Western states.  

Hydrologist Fogg says intervention was needed because Central Valley aquifers have been dramatically lowered in places, which has led to subsidence or sinking of the ground that could potentially lead to the collapse of some aquifers. He notes that aquifer depletion is also a problem in many developing nations, including China and India.

Issues surrounding water in California are politically charged and pit residents of the north against those of the south, cities against farmers, and environmentalists against agricultural interests.

Regulations to regulate the pumping of groundwater are being drawn up by local agencies, and it needs to be done right, says farm manager Cameron, or “you’re going to have fewer jobs. It’s a ripple effect through the economy.”

He says that farmers could face a stark choice of pumping less groundwater or growing fewer crops.

Whatever happens, Cameron says, “it’s going to be a real game-changer for this area when we get to 2020,” when the groundwater management system is in place.

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US Weekly Requests for Jobless Aid Up 10K, to 244,000

More Americans applied for jobless aid last week, though the number of people seeking benefits remains near historic lows pointing to a healthy job market.

THE NUMBERS: Weekly unemployment applications rose by 10,000 to 244,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the largest weekly increase since late May. The less volatile four-week average was unchanged at 244,000. The number of people collecting unemployment benefits has fallen 8.3 percent over the past 12 months to 2 million.

 

THE TAKEAWAY: The job market appears solid as the U.S. enters its ninth year of recovery from the Great Recession. Employers are holding onto workers with the expectation that business will continue to improve. Jobless claims – a close indication of layoffs – have come in below 300,000 for 125 weeks in a row. That’s the longest such stretch since 1970, when the U.S. population was much smaller.

 

KEY DRIVERS: After a weak start this year, the economy is expected to grow at roughly 2 percent. That would be roughly in line with annual gains during the recovery. Consistent hiring has helped sustain the gradual recovery, although the expansion is starting to show its age as the pace of job gains has slowed this year.

 

The unemployment rate has fallen to a healthy 4.4 percent. The Labor Department’s report for June showed that U.S. employers added a robust 222,000 jobs, the most in four months and a reassuring sign that businesses may be confident enough to keep hiring despite a slow-growing economy.

 

The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that it is keeping its key interest rate unchanged at a time when inflation remains undesirably low despite the job market continuing to strengthen.

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China to Speed Up Bullet Trains in September

China plans to raise the speed of its bullet trains back up to 350 kph (217 mph), state media reported on Thursday, six years after a deadly high-speed rail crash prompted authorities to slow trains across the country.

Trains on China’s high-speed rail network are designed to travel up to 350 kph, but Beijing ordered speeds to be cut to between 250-300 kph in 2011 after over 30 people were killed in a train crash in eastern Zhejiang province.

The Beijing News said the government planned to implement the increased speeds between Beijing and Shanghai in September, which would cut travel time to 4.5 hours from up to 6 hours currently.

China’s newest “Fuxing” bullet trains, which were unveiled in June and are capable of top speeds of 400 kph, will be used for that journey, it said.

China is home to the world’s longest high-speed rail network which competes heavily with domestic airlines. Of China’s 31 provinces and regions, 29 are served by high-speed rail with only the regions of Tibet and Ningxia in the northwest yet to be connected.

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Fed Holds Key Rate Steady, Will Reduce Holdings ‘Relatively Soon’

Leaders of the U.S. central bank said Wednesday that they were holding their benchmark lending rate at a low level — in a range between 1 and 1.25 percent — for the time being.  

Federal Reserve officials said in a report issued after their two-day policy meeting that the world’s largest economy was growing at a “moderate” pace and the job market was improving, but that inflation remained a bit low.

The chief economist of Stifel Fixed Income, Lindsey Piegza, said the Fed appeared eager to raise interest rates back to a more “normal” level and might well approve an increase at its next meeting in September. Sara Johnson of IHS Markit said the next rate hike likely would be in December.

Fed officials cut short-term interest rates to nearly zero during the 2007-09 financial crisis to boost investment and growth. They said the recovering economy no longer needed so much help, so they have been gradually raising interest rates and are expected to boost them further in the future.

In a VOA interview, Piegza said keeping rates too low for too long might prompt investors to seek better returns by putting money into excessively risky areas.

During the recession, the Fed also tried to boost growth by cutting long-term interest rates, with a complex program that involved purchasing huge amounts of securities.  

Fed officials said they would keep these assets for the time being but indicated they would begin selling them off “relatively soon.” Fed officials have said they will take care to reduce these assets in a gradual way that will not disrupt markets.