Fed Lockhart: Rate hike may come after midyear

Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart, a centrist, said Thursday he would increase interest rates midyear or even later—as the economy throws off “mixed signals” at the moment.

Economic growth in the first quarter looks “very soft,” he told CNBC—held back by the harsh winter weather in February and the fluctuations in oil prices. He did, however, say the rough patch looks “transitory.”

A forecast model from the Atlanta Fed suggested the economy was barely growing in the first quarter, following an unexpectedly steep 1.4 percent drop in durable goods orders in February.

Lockhart made his comments on “Squawk Box,” ahead of an appearance at a Detroit investment education conference. He’s a voting member this year on the central bank’s Federal Open Market Committee policymaking group.

As for the recent selloff in stocks, it shows market sensibilities are fragile right now, he said.

The financial markets have been hanging on every word from Fedofficials, since last week’s policy statement, which laid the groundwork for an interest rate increase with the removal of the word “patient” from their debate.

At the same time, the central bank appeared to be in no hurry, as inflation continues to run below the 2 percent target.

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While a rate hike is possible at the June meeting, economists say it’s looking increasingly likely the first move from near-zero percent would be in September or October. The last time the Fed increased rates was in 2006.

In a speech Thursday in Germany, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard reiterated his call for policymakers to act, saying the economy has normalized and so should rates. He’s not a voting member on the FOMC this year.

On the other side, dovish Chicago Fed President Charles Evans said in a London speech Wednesday that until inflation looks more like it’s headed back to the central bank’s 2 percent target there’s no rush to raise rates.

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Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer, speaking Monday in New York, said he expects a rate hike sometime this year but warned that once it happens there won’t be any predictable pattern. Fischer is set to speak Friday, hours before Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s scheduled address in San Francisco.

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