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Fed's Lockhart:Despite risks, economy looks firmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The economic recovery is gaining momentum, though there are risks to the outlook including a weak job market and soft consumption, Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank President Dennis Lockhart said on Friday.

Lecturing to undergraduates appeared to be a new trend for Fed officials. Central bank Chairman Bernanke on Thursday delivered the second of four lecture to students at The George Washington University. On Friday, it was Lockhart's turn to discuss economics and banking with undergraduates at Georgetown University.

Lockhart was more sanguine about the economic outlook, indicating a reduced appetite for a third round of monetary easing.

"My view is that we should hold the balance sheet where it is for the time being," Lockhart said. He added that he would not rule out further stimulus, but would like to see how the economy evolves before making any decisions.

He cited greater optimism among business contacts in the Southeast region.

"You're seeing a much more confident, upbeat message," he said.

Turning to Europe, he said that while many countries in the continent were facing difficult recessionary conditions, the risk of financial contagion to the United States had lessened with the recent completion of Greece's debt deal.

The path of the U.S. economy remains a point of contention. Gross domestic product expanded 3 percent in the fourth quarter of last year but is expected to have slowed to just under 2 percent in the first months of 2012.

(Reporting by Pedro Nicolaci da Costa; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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