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U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell speaks at the University of Zurich on Sept. 6, 2019.

ARND WIEGMANN/Reuters

The U.S. Federal Reserve will continue to act “as appropriate” to sustain the economic expansion in the world’s biggest economy, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said on Friday in Zurich, sticking to a phrase that financial markets have taken to signal further rate reductions, but declining to be more specific.

“Our obligation is to use our tools to support the economy, and that’s what we’ll continue to do,” Mr. Powell said at the University of Zurich. Still, he said, “We are clearly at a time where there is a range of views” among Fed policy-makers meeting Sept. 17-18 to decide on rates.

Mr. Powell’s careful wording reflects a split within the U.S. central bank about how best to respond to an economy in which the consumer is strong but risks are increasing from rising trade tensions between Beijing and Washington, geopolitical risks including Britain’s possibly messy exit from the European Union, and a broad global slowdown.

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In what are likely to be the last public remarks from a U.S. central banker before the Fed’s September meeting, Mr. Powell said policy-makers will be closely watching geopolitical risks, financial conditions and other incoming economic data as they weigh what to do.

“We are going to act as appropriate to sustain the expansion,” he said.

The Fed cut rates by a quarter of a percentage point in July, and investors expect two more rate cuts this year, including one later this month.

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