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It’s been a long time since economists dared to consider former Federal Reserve chief William McChesney Martin’s deathless phrase that it is the Fed’s job to “take away the punchbowl just as the party gets going.” But with Wall Street surging and both business and consumer confidence on the mend, the question at the moment is not if interest rates will rise in 2004, but when. Some believe the first hike could arrive as soon as May, especially should the economy continue to sizzle.

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