Prepare for two Fed rate hikes this year: SocGen

Janet Yellen Chat

The U.S. economy will rebound so sharply in the second quarter that the U.S. Federal Reserve could hikes rates twice this year, according to Alain Bokobza, head of global asset allocation at Societe Generale.

"You have an economy in the U.S. which is running on trend 3 percent (annualized gross domestic product)," the bullish strategist told CNBC Thursday. "We believe the Fed must very gradually, very slowly (act), but the Fed must exceed the zero rate policy."

First-quarter annualized g ross domestic product (GDP) for the U.S. economy is likely to come in at 1.5 percent, according to Bokobza, due to the bad weather in several parts of the country. In the final quarter of 2014, the country's economy expanded at a 2.2 percent annual rate.

But Bokobza said he expected the second quarter to show blossoming growth of 5 percent. Additionally, he said there would be a pickup in inflation figures, which have been hit by the dramatic fall in oil prices.

"Your negative inflation readings will become much more positive in six-12 months' time and the Fed knows it," he said. Bokobza is traditionally bullish on the S&P 500 but usually "shorts" the Russell 2000 benchmark, expecting it to fall lower.

The Fed started aggressively expanding its balance sheet shortly after the global financial crash of 2008, in a program that became known as QE (quantitative easing) 1.

After a short break, the Fed started a second program in 2010, before launching its third open-ended $85 billion-a-month program in late 2012. Its main benchmark interest rate - the Fed funds rate - has been kept close to zero percent in the hope of stimulating lending.

With its bond-buying program now over, the central bank is looking to raise its benchmark rate this year, despite some dovish comments from Fed Chair Janet Yellen last month. Most market watcher are anticipating a move in September but other economists and analysts are more pessimistic.

Nomura's closely-watched strategist, Bob Janjuah, told CNBC Tuesday that the first rise in rates could be postponed to late next year -and said he believed that more aggressive easing or QE could be on the way.

"If U.S consumption doesn't pick up then why the hell would the Fed raise rates?" the notoriously bearish Janjuah told CNBC International on Tuesday.

"I think (the second quarter of 2015) is critical. (The second quarter) is going to tell us about corporate earnings in the U.S."

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