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POLL-Wall St firms stick to 1st-half 2015 hike view after jobs data

* See for data on primary dealers

* Seven U.S. primary dealers see rate hike in first half 2015

* 8 of 14 dealers see 1st rate hike to go directly to 0.50 pct

* Most see Fed to stop bond reinvestment by end of 2015

May 2 (Reuters) - Slightly less than half the economists at Wall Street's top firms continue to expect the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates in the first half of 2015 following news the economy in April created the most monthly jobs in over two years, a survey showed on Friday.

The increase of 288,000 jobs in April topped even the most optimistic forecast among the some 100 analysts polled earlier by Reuters. The eye-catching number came after Wednesday's dismal reading on first-quarter U.S. growth cast doubt about strength of the economic recovery, even accounting for the impact of a harsh winter.

"The outlook for growth has not materially changed from Tuesday," said Lewis Alexander, chief U.S. economist at Nomura Securities International in New York. "Some of the weakness in the first quarter will be paid back in the second quarter."

Seven of 16 U.S. primary dealers said they expected the U.S. central bank to increase its policy rate by the end of June next year, according to a poll conducted by Reuters among the Wall Street's top 22 firms that do business directly with the Federal Reserve. This compared with eight of 18 dealers in an April 4 poll.

Wall Street economists, as they await further evidence of a rebound this spring, do not anticipate policy-makers to stray from the current path, namely holding short-term rates near zero into next year and wrapping up the Fed's third round of large-scale bond purchases by year-end.

On Wednesday, the Fed voted to cut its monthly purchase of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities by $10 billion to $45 billion.

Policymakers also signaled they are no in hurry to move away from the Fed's near zero rate policy they adopted in December 2008 with inflation running below its 2 percent target and the jobs market still not where they like.

Friday's April payrolls increase was the strongest in more than two years, while the jobless rate fell to 6.3 percent, a 5-1/2-year low.

But the jobs report showed more people leaving the workforce and no growth in hourly wage and the amount of time worked.

Eight of 14 Wall Street firms expected the first rate move would be an increase to 0.50 percent, from the current zero to 0.25 percent range, which has been in effect since December 2008. This compared with 10 of 17 in the April 4 poll.

The rest of the firms believed the Fed would eliminate the near-zero target range before raising rates by a quarter point.

Moreover, eight of 13 primary dealers reckoned the Fed would not maintain a difference between its official policy rate and the interest rate it pays on banks' excess reserves when they begin to tighten rates.

Fourteen of 16 primary dealers polled expected the central bank to stop reinvesting the proceeds from maturing bonds it owns by the end of 2015. This compared with the 12 of 16 a month earlier.

(Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss, Karen Brettell, Karen Brettell, Sam Forgione, Michael Connor in New York, and; Deepti Govind and Ishaan Gera in Bangalore; Editing by Leslie Adler)