NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The Federal Reserve's policy statement had a little something for everyone Wednesday. While keeping the "considerable time" pledge on raising interest rates, the central bank also said it would be "patient."
In case there was any confusion, Fed Chair Janet Yellen pointedly said the change in language didn't signal "a change in policy." But investors weren't so sure. Stocks initially rallied sharply, then trimmed some of their gains, then rallied again. Bond yields initially fell, then rose.
The key, perhaps, was Yellen's comment that the Fed would be patient for "at least the next couple of meetings." That means a rate hike could come any time after March. If oil prices and Europe stabilize enough that the Fed can focus mostly on the the U.S. economy, rates could start rising after the April 28-29 meeting. But the best bet is probably still June. Only if the global scene looks chaotic next spring would the Fed wait until September.
The case for an April move turns on U.S. economic data for the next two quarters, independent economist Joel Naroff said.
Naroff, who has been toward the bullish end of forecasts pretty consistently since 2012, thinks that consumer spending will rise as much as 3.5%, annualized, in each quarter, up from an average of 2.35% the last two quarters. And that could make the Fed move as soon as April.
A lot depends on gasoline prices, he says. The average family is expected to spend $544 less on gas next year than this year, which means as much as $100 billion more in consumer spending, Naroff says.
Consumer spending on goods already is rising almost 4% a year, so the extra money could bolster spending on services, he adds.
The services sector -- which makes up three-quarters of the U.S. economy -- includes everything from restaurants like Dave & Buster's (PLAY) and Cheesecake Factory (CAKE) to vacation-related businesses like Priceline (PCLN) and Expedia (EXPE) , as well as airlines like Southwest (LUV) and hotel chains like Marriott International (MAR) .