U.S. Federal Reserve policymakers suggested Wednesday that they continue to see the need for three interest rate cuts in 2024, despite recent signs of resilient economic growth.

The forecast, unchanged from December, was released following a two-day meeting of the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee, reflecting its confidence that inflation is coming down. It kept its benchmark interest rate on hold at a 23-year high of 5.25-5.50 percent as widely expected.

In its quarterly economic projections, the median forecast for the rate at the end of 2024 remained at 4.6 percent, meaning the central bank could carry out three quarter-point cuts from current levels.

But the latest rate estimates for the year-end periods of 2025 and 2026 were raised to 3.9 percent and 3.1 percent, respectively, from 3.6 percent and 2.9 percent as projected three months ago.

U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell speaks at a press conference in Washington on March 20, 2024. (Kyodo)

Meanwhile, the committee foresees that the U.S. gross domestic product, adjusted for inflation, will be up 2.1 percent in the October-December period as compared to a year earlier, revising upward from 1.4 percent in its previous forecast.

The Fed's fifth straight decision to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate, which commercial banks charge each other for overnight loans, left a first cut in borrowing costs since 2020 until possibly sometime in the second half of this year.

The FOMC said in a statement it "does not expect it will be appropriate to reduce the target range until it has gained greater confidence that inflation is moving sustainably toward 2 percent."

The unanimous decision followed earlier expectations that the Fed could begin to ease monetary policy as soon as in March after two years of rapid rate hikes to tamp down price increases.

But data showed the U.S. economy remaining robust, with inflation picking up this year.

The Labor Department said last week that consumer prices were 3.2 percent higher in February compared to a year ago.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell told a press conference that recent strong economic data have not changed the overall story that inflation is moving toward its target on a "sometimes bumpy road."

Powell said, nonetheless, he wants to be "careful about dismissing data that we don't like." He offered virtually no hints about the timing of the first rate cut in 2024, while many economists and investors now expect it may happen as early as June.

He reiterated that Fed officials need to strike a delicate balance by avoiding cutting rates "too soon or too much," which could result in a "reversal of the progress" in taming inflation, or "too late or too little," which could "unduly weaken economic activity and employment."