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Goldman Sachs' O'Neill, aka Mr. BRIC, to retire

By Lauren Tara LaCapra and Jennifer Ablan

(Reuters) - Jim O'Neill, a Goldman Sachs Group Inc executive who coined the term "BRIC" to refer to four fast-growing emerging markets, will retire later this year, according to an internal memo sent out on Tuesday.

O'Neill, chairman of Goldman's asset management division, is an economist by training who joined the company in 1995 as a partner in the roles of co-head of Global Economics Research and chief currency economist, said the memo, which was signed by Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein.

He is perhaps best known for coming up with the BRIC acronym in 2001, which identified Brazil, Russia, India and China as top emerging markets where investors could put their money for high returns. O'Neill, known as Mr. BRIC on Wall Street, proclaimed that those emerging economies, China's in particular, would help drive markets and world economic growth for the next decade.

O'Neill, 55, once described as the world's first rock star economist for his talent on predicting movements in the $1 trillion-a-day foreign exchange markets, continues to be bullish on China.

In a 2012 year-end report, O'Neill said China "has, for now, reached a soft landing." He added that the economy appeared to have bottomed mid-way through the third quarter, and real gross domestic product growth in the 7.5 percent to 8.5 percent vicinity seems like a reasonable starting basis for thinking about 2013.

O'Neill's calls have been broadly accurate, except for his belief that the world economy was not in trouble during the financial crisis.

In the memo, Blankfein said: "Jim is an influential economist and thought leader, and is regarded as an expert in the world's foreign exchange and bond markets."

The role of chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management was created for O'Neill when he joined the division in 2010 and there are no plans to replace him, a spokeswoman said. Tim O'Neill, no relation, and Eric Lane will continue to co-head the business.

O'Neill is not only known for his BRIC thesis.

In 2010, a group of wealthy Manchester United fans known as the Red Knights, which included O'Neill, tried to buy the soccer team for 1 billion pounds, arguing that the team's value was in decline.

Manchester United, whose shares have surged after a poor start when they were offered on the New York Stock Exchange last year, is now valued at $3.3 billion, a report on Forbes's website said in January.

What's more, Manchester United, which is controlled by the Glazers, a family better known in the United States as owner of the National Football League's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is in first place in the English Premier League.

When asked if his retirement would free him up to go to more Man U matches, O'Neill, a lifelong United fan who grew up in Gatley, responded via email.

(Reporting By Lauren Tara LaCapra and Jennifer Ablan; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Leslie Adler and Steve Orlofsky)

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