When the Federal Reserve gathers next week, markets likely will be looking past a widely expected rate hike and toward the direction the central bank will chart ahead.
A quarter-point increase in the Fed's benchmark funds rate is already baked in the cake. That will take the funds target to 2 percent to 2.25 percent, where it last was more than 10 years ago.
The mystery for investors will be how officials view the future, particularly at a time when they've been making public statements that seem to indicate a difference of opinion over how aggressive policy needs to be as the economy ignites.
For now, the conclusion of most Fedspeak has been a continuation of the steady but gradual pace of rate hikes and a continued unwind of the balance sheet, which is comprised mostly of bonds the central bank purchased during and after the financial crisis to stimulate the economy.
However, members of the Federal Open Market Committee clearly are wrestling with how much more work needs to be done before the rate-hike work is finished.
"The message from this meeting will be continued gradual hikes, with a watchful eye toward risks — to both the upside and downside," Morgan Stanley economists said in a note.
The upside risks to the economy are that growth will continue and perhaps even defy the skeptics who say the rapid 2018 pace is the result only of temporary fiscal stimulus that won't last. That upside carries with it the possibility of inflation, both in price pressures and market valuations, that could force the Fed into hiking even more aggressively than the market thinks.
On the downside, there's the ongoing trade war with China, coupled with worry that global growth could be slowing due in part to central banks like the Fed beginning to normalize policy.