"The Fed is going to wait a long, long time before they do that," says Roberts, who believes the soonest the Fed will raise rates is next year, but likely beyond that. "They've got tons of other programs they have to unwind first, which are more flexible -- they can kind of stop, start. But when they start raising rates, it will have a big impact."
Interest-rate policy has wide-ranging effects on not just the markets, but consumers as well. It affects consumer debt like credit-card rates and mortgage rates, as well as commercial and interbank lending that bleeds down to the Average Joe.
The Fed's main priority is for the economy to stabilize, and must balance two concerns when considering rate changes: Employment and inflation. The jobs market is still atrocious and the only folks expressing concerns about prices in a struggling economy are inflation hawks whose wings were unclipped with surging oil prices last year.
Roberts also notes that policy tends to be progressive, comparing rate movements to troop formations and military strategy. Sudden stops and starts or reversals imply that the Fed doesn't have a handle on the situation.
"You start having 10% unemployment rising more slowly or topping out, and you start raising rates, that's not the recipe for reappointment," says Roberts, author of Follow the Fed to Investment Success.
Although President Obama has already chosen Bernanke for a second term, political pressures haven't abated. Consumers are still hunkered down, with confidence relatively low. Job losses are only showing possible signs of abating -- not reversing. The housing market has only started to gasp for air, largely because of low interest rates and government incentives.
Furthermore, any improvements are coming from a major downturn, and don't necessarily imply a return to normalcy, or the start of a booming recovery.
"The definition of inflation is too many dollars chasing too few goods, and we don't have that right now," says Tim Speiss, head of private client services at the accounting and advisory firm Eisenr LLP. "There's plenty of slack in the economy; the unemployment rate is supposed to go up...We have extreme consumer conservatism."
As a result, the Fed may not begin raising rates, at least significantly, for quite some time. Fariborz Ghadar, director of the Center for Global Business Studies at Penn State, expects it to take about three to six months for the government to begin mopping up excess liquidity from the system.
"And I'm optimistic; I think the economy has turned around," says Ghadar. "But as long as the economy is as slow as it is -- even though we're starting to see an uptick -- the Fed is going to be really reluctant to raise the rates."