WASHINGTON (AP) - The Federal Reserve's announcement that it is unlikely to raise its benchmark interest rate until late 2014 is simply its "best guess," Ben Bernanke said Wednesday.
The Fed chairman made clear during a news conference Wednesday that the decision to leave interest rates unchanged for three more years was not ironclad.
The central bank's ability to forecast that far out is limited, Bernanke says, and the Fed could adjust the time frame for when it will raise rates if economic conditions change.
Still, he said the U.S. economy remains weak and that all signs suggest the Fed won't change its record-low rate for another three years.
"Unless there is a substantial strengthening of the economy in the near term, it's a pretty good guess we will be keeping rates low for some time," Bernanke said after the Fed concluded its two-day policy meeting.
The central bank has kept its key rate at a record low near zero for about three years.
Bernanke also said the Fed has not ruled out bolder steps to boost economic growth, such as a third round of bond purchases.
"If inflation is going to remain below target for an extended period and unemployment progress is very slow ... there is a case for additional policy action," he said.
"I would not say we are out of ammunition. We still have tools."
Prior to the news conference, the Fed downgraded its outlook for U.S. economic growth this year.