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The Federal Reserve set the stage for its recent interest rate reductions at a mid-November meeting of its monetary policy committee, according to minutes of the meeting released Friday. The committee vote was a unanimous 18-0.

The central bank has permitted a lowering of its federal funds rate four times since October and on Wednesday dropped the discount rate from 7 percent to 6.5 percent, the first decline in four years.

The minutes show that the committee members were concerned about "the growing signs of a softening economy, the related vulnerability of many business and financial firms to added financial strains and the increased reluctance of institutional lenders to accommodate less than prime business borrowers."

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