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The Federal Reserve looks poised to ease its rate path going forward. Officials "could afford to be patient about further policy firming," meeting minutes out Wednesday said. The central bank last increased its benchmark interest rate in December. Interest rates may not rise as quickly as previously thought. Financial-market volatility and global-growth concerns have made the Federal Reserve’s rate path less clear going forward, the central bank revealed in meeting minutes out Wednesday, adding that officials "could afford to be patient about further policy firming." "These minutes are the clearest signal we’ve received that the Fed will slow down the rate hike pace, which is what the markets have seemed hungry for," said Mike Loewengart, head of investment strategy at E-trade. "And the fact that a few Fed officials didn’t even want December's hike show which way the wind is blowing." Officials signaled at their December meeting they would take a tentative approach to setting monetary policy, when they increased the benchmark interest rate by a quarter percentage point to between 2.25% and 2.5%, lowering its forecast from three hikes to two. "Concerns over escalating trade tensions, global growth prospects, and the sustainability of corporate earnings growth were among the factors that appeared to contribute to a significant drop in U.S. equity prices," the minutes said. As US stocks booked their worst year since 2008 and as President Donald Trump’s trade war drags on, market watchers have been closely monitoring for signs the central bank could put the brakes on tightening. Officials hiked four times last year and nine times since 2015. SEE ALSO: The government shutdown threatens the US with a credit-rating cut for only the 2nd time in history Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: The equity chief at $6.3 trillion BlackRock weighs in on the trade war, a possible recession, and offers her best investing advice for a tricky 2019 landscape