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Another rate cut coming from the Fed?

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KAI RYSSDAL: The Supreme Court has decided to revisit the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Almost twenty years on, the justices voted to hear whether ExxonMobil ought to have to pay a two-and-half-billion dollar punitive damage award. The original judgment, from an Alaska jury back in 1994, was for $5 billion.

Down Constitution Avenue a bit, the Federal Reserve’s getting ready for a meeting tomorrow to talk about short-term interest rates. Six weeks ago, Ben Bernanke and the gang obliged Wall Street with a half-point cut.

Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale reports investors have their party hats ready once again.

John Dimsdale: The financial numbers Fed members will be crunching over the next couple days are decidedly mixed. There are a lot of positive things going on in the economy — strong growth overall, robust exports, low unemployment and benign inflation rates for everything except food and energy.

On the downside, the housing and credit industries may still be in a free fall, oil prices are adding to the drag and consumers are beginning to show signs of closing their pocketbooks.

Those worries have Wall Street bankers and investors anticipating another interest rate cut from the Fed.

Brian Bethune: In general, the Fed does not like to surprise the markets.

Economist Brian Bethune with Global Insight expects the Fed will announce a quarter-percentage-point cut in short-term interest rates. He sees no inflation threat to give the Fed any concern about lowering interest rates too far.

Bethune: If we did see a pickup in inflation in 2008, then Fed could lift rates back up. But at least in the short term, to get us over this critical period, it would seem to be the right way to go to lower rates.

Federal Reserve board members are likely to factor in the expectation of a rate cut, says the chief economist at Bear Stearns, David Malpass.

David Malpass: They may not have the economic urgency to do the cut, but the markets are fully expecting the cut — and I think the housing weakness is enough to push them over to do it. But I don’t think they’ll do more than that.

That’s because by this winter, Malpass expects oil and food price hikes will spark enough inflation to force the Fed to start raising interest rates again.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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