By Deepti Govind
(Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Reserve will not raise its key interest rate until at least July next year as it waits for the world's biggest economy to gather pace, according to a slim majority of economists in a Reuters poll.
Results of the survey of 69 economists based in the United States, Europe and Canada were similar to those in a poll of 18 primary dealers -- the banks that do business directly with the Fed -- conducted on Friday.
While 33 of the 69 economists in Wednesday's poll expect the bank to hike the Fed funds rate from the current 0-0.25 percent by the end of June 2015, 31 expect it to happen in the second half of that year and five said it would be early 2016.
Around two-thirds of the economists said the Fed's first move would be to 0.5 percent while the remainder said the Fed would first eliminate the current 0-0.25 percent range and then move up. Only six forecasters in Wednesday's poll said the Fed would tighten in the first quarter of next year.
In a January poll, 22 of 72 respondents said the Fed would raise the fed funds rate by mid-2015, with most predicting a hike in the second half.
Following the Fed's March policy meeting, Chair Janet Yellen hinted the central bank will probably end its massive bond-buying program next fall and could start raising interest rates around six months later.
Recent economic data releases - from a pickup in factory activity and consumer confidence to a robust pace of hiring - have given the strongest signals yet the economy was breaking free of the winter doldrums.
Not everyone is convinced solid evidence the job market is back on track after a disappointing February, although some feel the Fed may be more compelled to raise rates in the first half of next year rather than waiting.
Goldman Sachs said slack in the labor market, together with a Fed chief who has a dovish outlook on inflation, means a rate hike is still a long way off.
"We still see a high probability that she and the committee as a whole will ultimately move to 2016 as the actual date of liftoff draws closer," wrote Jan Hatzius, Goldman's chief U.S. economist, in a client note.
(Polling by Ishaan Gera; Editing by Leslie Adler)