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Stocks extend winning streak as economy strengthens—five experts weigh in

VIDEO4:1604:16
GDP grew at 2.6% in Q4—Here's what five market experts are watching now

U.S. stocks continued their best start to a year in almost three decades on Friday as Wall Street cheered Thursday's news that U.S. gross domestic product topped growth expectations for the fourth quarter, rising 2.6 percent.

 Economists were expecting 2.2 percent growth after GDP gained 3.4 percent in the previous quarter.

Many market watchers see the better-than-anticipated results as grounds for the Federal Reserve to continue to hold off on raising interest rates. Here are five experts' takes for what a higher GDP number means for the economy:

  • Brian Levitt, OppenheimerFunds' senior investment strategist, told CNBC's "Squawk Alley" that signs of moderation bring welcome relief: "So, I actually think it's good news that the economy is moderating. It was going to be very difficult for the U.S. to sustain above 3 percent growth. You would've had to import a lot of 30-year-olds and make them really, really productive. It's hard to do that at this point in the cycle. So, this slowdown in growth is actually good for markets. Because last year [we had] very strong growth, but that raised interest rates and brought forward Fed tightening. So the way we categorized that is strong growth, but bad policy. This year is moderating growth as government spending goes down or drags some, but better policy. The Fed has backed off as a result of expectations of slower growth. Rates have stabilized around 2.65, 2.70. That's a good backdrop for equities."
  • Vincent Reinhart, chief economist at Mellon, said on "Squawk Box" that while the fourth-quarter GDP number is not the best indicator of economic activity, it supports the Fed maintaining its interest rate stalemate: "What I'm pretty sure [the Fed] will do is not lead. They want the data to decisively show that it's appropriate to tighten, which means they're basically on hold for the first half of this year. If the data are consistently showing we're growing above trend and resource slack accumulates, it'll probably show up in cost of inflation and the Fed will be back on the table. Think about how much expectations changed from, say, November, December to now. They can change back pretty quickly as well."
  • Lindsey Piegza, chief economist for Stifel Fixed Income, was less convinced, telling  "Squawk on the Street" that the results could support an argument for raising rates sooner than some might think: "Inflation [is] at 1.7 percent. That's not actually that far from 2 percent. I think that's very much in line with the Fed's assessment of inflation being near their longer-term objective, and you couple that with growth coming in stronger than expected, well above 2 percent. These are the very conditions that warranted a more aggressive rate path in 2018, and so there are going to be the members, the more hawkish members, on the Fed, come that March meeting, that are going to make the case for at least another 25 basis points. But as we move further into the year and domestic weakness then becomes more prevalent and that becomes the primary catalyst for keeping the Fed on the sideline, the next rate move, if we don't see one in the near term, is likely to be to the downside, meaning a possible rate cut."
  • Julian Emanuel, BTIG managing director and chief equity and derivatives strategist, told "Squawk on the Street" that the GDP number was "excellent," but said there was more to it: "What it actually does is cushion the psychology for what is likely going to be a weak first quarter. But we know that, and markets don't fear that which we know. You had the government shutdown, you had the plunge in consumer confidence, which is reversing itself, and you had this polar vortex. Hopefully, winter will end soon. But all of that is going to cause GDP to be maybe 1 percent, maybe even lower. But the important thing is, full year, economists aren't taking their numbers down, and that's the kind of strength that we saw in that fourth-quarter number which, again, to us, given the fact that psychology is very defensive still despite the rally we've had the last couple months, we think stocks end up moving higher."
  • UBS' Art Cashin also came out positive, though he did issue a warning about the GDP results on "Squawk Alley": "I think the GDP number is pretty much in line, although the viewers should be very careful: The way that number came out is very subject to revision. There's a high probability that that could happen. But the PMI was very encouraging and I think we want to keep an eye on that. You've got to get out from under the trade talk worries and maybe begin to see the economy perk up. "