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Cashin: Concerned about economy; oil to retest lows

Oil prices were rallying for a fourth day on Thursday, but crude futures will likely retest their lows, Art Cashin said.

The UBS director of New York Stock Exchange floor operations chocked up the surge this week to traders covering bad bets that oil prices would fall below $30.

"It's got many of the aspects of a short-covering rally. People were talking about 20 levels. I think oil was overly shorted. People are paying for it now," he told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street."

"I don't know that we're going back to 50 [dollars a barrel]. I think you probably have to give the lows one more test," he added.

U.S. crude was on pace for a nearly 10 percent gain on the week after hitting a nearly seven-year low on Monday. Brent crude also came off a nearly 11-year low.

Cashin said he is still concerned about the economy when asked whether he is looking for a bottom in oil or a signal from the Federal Reserve for clues about the direction of stocks next year.

The central bank's policymaking committee raised interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade this month.

Cashin said markets have essentially gone nowhere this year, and U.S. stocks would be in a worse position if not for financial engineering.

"The data will begin to tell the tale. Obviously the Fed won't want to admit that they may have made an error too readily, so I think the data will have to deteriorate significantly in order to get them to move," he said.

U.S. stock indexes have racked up three-straight days of gains following a two-day selloff in the wake of the Fed decision last week. As of Wednesday's close, the Dow was still down 1.24 percent on the year, while the S&P 500 was up just 0.26 percent year to date.

Both indexes were in the red during a shortened trading session on Thursday.

JPMorgan global market strategist James Liu told "Squawk on the Street" that 2015 could have been much worse for U.S. stocks given the challenges of an earnings recession and uncertainty around global growth and U.S. monetary policy.

Next year, he is expecting roughly 5 to 7 percent growth for equities as U.S. central bank policy continues to diverge with the rest of the world, the drag from low crude prices dissipates, and earnings rebound.

Liu noted that earnings rose in the mid-single digits in 2015 excluding the energy and materials sectors, which were negatively affected by a collapse in crude oil and other commodity prices.

"On top of that you get this rebound effect ... in energy and materials where the weakness was, and it looks like 2016 will be actually a decent year for earnings," he said.

Ward McCarthy, chief financial economist at Jefferies, told "Squawk on the Street" that view was born out by the state of the underlying economy.

"I think the U.S. economy is heading for a better year in 2016 than it had in 2015, and of course in 2015 we pretty much led the pack as far as global growth is concerned. So from a market standpoint I think that makes the U.S. an attractive place to invest," he said.

He cautioned, however, that volatility will likely continue until investors get a better hold on the Fed's pace of future rate hikes. Counter to the prevailing view on the Street that the central bank will raise rates four times in 2016, McCarthy said the Fed will likely hike just twice.