Citadel’s Griffin bullish on US, expects rate rise

One of the nation's biggest hedge fund managers said Thursday that despite the market's recent volatility, he was still bullish, both on the U.S. and energy, and expects interest rates to start rising soon.

Citadel founder and chief executive Kenneth Griffin, whose Chicago-based hedge funds invest about $23 billion in assets, said in an exclusive interview with CNBC that "the U.S. growth story is still pretty much intact," even if the past few weeks had been ugly. The wild swings of late, he added, were "more an issue of differences between reality and expectations. There was a feeling on January 1…that we had put several years of very mediocre growth behind us. We're now 10 months farther along, but we're still stuck in the morass."

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His comments came as U.S. stock markets rallied somewhat after a bruising few days in the markets, with the S&P up 0.3 percent and the Dow up marginally in mid-afternoon trading. Citadel itself is up about 15 percent in its multi-strategy fund through Oct. 1, though more recent performance numbers weren't yet available.

Indeed, after several years of relatively tepid GDP, the U.S. economy, which grew 4.6 percent in real terms during the second quarter, appears to be improving somewhat—even as other developed countries show increasing divergence in their rates of growth and perceived risk. Current forecasts suggest U.S. growth will be close to 3 percent by the end of the year.

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Issues of renewed weakness in the peripheral countries of the eurozone, like Greece and Portugal, and concerns about underwhelming rates of growth in Japan were rattling traders, Griffin said. Despite the recent pullback in Treasury rates at investors flocked to bonds, he predicted that the Fed would raise interest rates relatively soon, and the question was "a matter of when" and not if. "The U.S. is reaching a point where we're going to have to start to let go of our easy monetary policy…and I think everyone would feel a lot better if the rest of the world was in a better position," he said.

He also spoke optimistically about the impact of cheap gas on the U.S. economy.

"It's a healthy form of QE," he said, echoing comments from Citigroup energy analyst Ed Morse, who appeared on CNBC earlier Thursday. "This is money right in the pockets of the American family to spend on goods and services and not at the pump, right in time for the holidays."

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