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Fed policy is 'trickle down' on steroids: Economist

The Federal Reserve's near-zero interest rate policy amounts to trickle-down economics and will not fix the U.S. economy, Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities said on Tuesday.

"It's the ultimate trickle-down economics. It's trickle-down economics on steroids," he told "Squawk Box" in an interview. (Tweet This) "We've got to build a stronger base. That's what's missing."

The Fed has held interest rates near zero since December 2008 in a bid to increase lending and spur economic growth. The policy has also driven investors into equity markets because stocks provide the yield they can can no longer get from bonds.

While many economists expect an initial 25-basis point rate hike at the central bank's September meeting, Vitner said the economic data available to that point won't look good.

"If you look at the data they're likely to see in September, it's going to be a GDP number less than 2 percent in the second quarter, a GDP number that's negative in the first quarter, and no reading on third-quarter GDP yet," he said.

"It may be a little uncomfortable to raise rates in a sub-2 percent GDP world," he added.

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Mark Okada, co-founder and CIO at Highland Capital Management, told "Squawk Box" that the Fed should have raised rates already.

While low rates have helped pump up equity markets, raising rates would help Americans save money more efficiently, freeing them to spend more of their income in the broader economy, Okada said.

Near-zero interest rate policy boosts wealth, he said, but added, "There's a certain point where it stops working. It doesn't reach the right part of the economy."

The cost of crude and the strengthening dollar are the two big signals for markets and the economy, Okada said.

Oil prices have gotten ahead of themselves because U.S. drillers are positioning themselves to increase production, he said. That is why exploration and production companies have been raising equity and debt, he added.

The energy sector raised $10.9 billion through new equity issuance in the first quarter of 2015, more than double the amount raised in the same period last year, data from Dealogic shows.

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"If you look at the flows in the equity market, a lot of it is going into energy right now, so they're Hoovering in a lot of liquidity, and they're going to use that to drill a lot more capacity," he said.

The dollar needs "some sort of healthy pullback," from its long bull market, Okada said, but central bank monetary easing around the world will only serve to keep it strong.

That said, it is hard to read too much into the Fed's effect on the U.S. currency because the long dollar was "the most crowded trade we've ever seen," he added.

"Anything that's really crowded, when you start to push it the other way, it gets technically very ugly," he said.

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The abrupt rise in the dollar has slammed the U.S. manufacturing sector, Vitner said.

"Outside of recessions, we have rarely seen industrial production as weak as it has been over the last five or six months. It's been weak every month since November," he said.

He continued to say, "All the focus we have on the technology side and the services side, people forget how important manufacturing is. That's where economy gets its cyclical impulse, and I think that's what's behind a lot of the moves we've seen in exchange rates so far this year."

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