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Fed tells market: We're taking summer off

The Federal Reserve sent a strong signal that it now expects only one interest rate hike this year, and the market now sees less than a 50 percent chance of even one rise by year-end.

The Fed's post-meeting statement and new forecast did not contain many surprises, and stocks held steady, but the two-year Treasury note, most sensitive to Fed news, rallied hard. The dollar fell slightly.

The U.S. central bank continued to lean toward hiking rates, but the Fed's "dot plot," which contains the interest rate forecasts of Fed officials, shows that six members now believe there will be just one rate rise this year, up from one member in March. Even though the central bank's official forecast still shows two rate hikes, Fed watchers took the increase in sentiment for one hike as a more important indicator.

"It should point to a weaker dollar, and the thing is, now the next event is Brexit, so it's hard to see a lot of people fighting the moves that are now underway," said John Briggs, head of strategy at RBS. "As much as anything, it kind of validates where the market is, but doesn't mean (bond yields can't fall further) if we get more worried about Brexit."

The Fed also lowered its outlook for rate hikes into the future. Central bank officials are now looking for the funds rate to rise to 1.6 percent in 2017, as opposed to the 1.9 percent estimate from March, and to 2.4 percent in 2017, from a 3.0 percent estimate previously.

Fed watchers continues to expect a hike, more likely now for September or December than July. According to RBS, futures markets now indicate just a 44 percent chance of a rate hike by the December meeting.

"I think the consensus has been moving that way for some time. You have one more rate hike, and then it just becomes a guessing game," said Scott Clemons, chief investment strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman. "I think the Fed needed to, and they accomplished with the language of the press release that they're keeping a July rate hike on the table."

However, Clemons said he believes September is much more likely for the next hike.

"There's not enough inflationary pressures to make them do it" sooner, said Clemons. "Time is their friend."

Fed watchers had seen the weak May jobs report, with only 38,000 nonfarm payrolls, as the main reason the central bank did not hike rates this week. But there has also been an increase in market worries about Brexit — the U.K. referendum, scheduled for next week, on whether to leave the European Union.

The Fed modified its statement to show "the pace of improvement in the labor market has slowed while economic activity appears to have picked up." It also pointed to growth in household spending.

Treasury yields have plumbed new levels as global bond markets have reacted recently to both Brexit and the easing of foreign central banks. The German 10-year bund this week fell below a zero yield for the first time ever. The U.S. 10-year on Wednesday was yielding 1.58 percent, still above its February low of 1.53 percent.

"In sum, the policy statement embodied no new information about the timing of the next rate hike in the normalization process, but leans very dovish," noted Ward McCarthy, chief financial economist at Jefferies.

"(Fed Chair) Janet Yellen may change our opinion, but right now we think that it is highly probable that there is again one rate hike in 2016, with December again being the most likely date," he wrote.

Respondents to CNBC's June Fed survey this week identified the jobs report as the biggest obstacle to a June hike, with global growth concerns second, and Brexit the third. The Fed did not point to Brexit in its statement but Yellen said in a briefing that it was something Fed officials considered.

Fifty-five percent said the jobs report was a statistical blip, but 35 percent said it was evidence of a new trend of lower employment growth. Forty percent said job growth was depressed because the economy is close to full employment, while 58 percent said they think employers are uncertain about the future.