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Obama to name Pimco VP, Harvard economist to Fed: report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House has identified two economists to fill vacant seats on the Federal Reserve's powerful seven-member board, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, citing unnamed sources.

However, the White House said in a statement that Obama had not yet decided whom to nominate.

"The President is considering a range of highly qualified nominees for the Federal Reserve but has not made any decisions about whom he would appoint to fill these critically important openings," said White House spokesman Matt Lehrich.

The newspaper said Jeremy Stein, a Harvard University specialist in finance, and Richard Clarida, an executive vice president at money manager Pimco and professor of economics and international affairs at Columbia University, were President Barack Obama's picks for the posts.

The nominations would come at a key juncture for the U.S. central bank, which is struggling to support a frail economic recovery plagued by high unemployment despite aggressive use of unconventional monetary policy.

U.S. interest rates have been at effectively zero since the end of 2008, and the Fed has expanded its balance sheet to a record $2.9 trillion in an effort to stimulate lending.

This week, the Fed announced that it currently intends to keep interest rates at such rock-bottom lows until at least the middle of 2013, underscoring just how glum officials have become about the medium-term outlook for U.S. growth.

Fed board members all get permanent votes on the central bank's policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee. The Fed declined to comment.

Both Stein and Clarida, who were not immediately available for comment, have extensive experience in monetary policy and finance, something that should help them overcome charges leveled at MIT Professor and Nobel Laureate Peter Diamond, whose nomination was defeated by Republicans earlier this year.

Senator Richard Shelby argued that Diamond lacked experience because, despite his impressive credentials, he did not conduct the bulk of his research on monetary affairs.

The two reported nominees have, with Stein's most recent work, entitled "The Optimal Conduct of Monetary Policy With Interest On Reserves," especially relevant to the Fed's recent foray into unconventional monetary policy.

Many top Fed officials, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, are not economists.

Stein and Clarida both have prior experience in government. Stein served in the White House early in the Obama administration while Clarida was a Treasury official during the former George W. Bush administration.

The two open terms expire in January 2014 and January 2018. Respectively, they were last filled by Frederic Mishkin, who stepped down in 2008 and Kevin Warsh, who left the Fed at the end of March.

In June, the Fed forecast U.S. economic growth would average 2.7 percent to 2.9 percent this year. These figures were now looking optimistic, with the latest Reuters poll of economists projecting a much weaker 1.7 percent rate of expansion.

(Reporting by Pedro da Costa and Glenn Somerville; Editing by Diane Craft and Andrew Hay)

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