Goldman CEO Blankfein prepares to exit as soon as year-end

(Adds details on Blankfein, Schwartz and Solomon, Goldman succession planning)

March 9 (Reuters) - Lloyd Blankfein could step down as Goldman Sachs Group Inc chief executive as soon as the end of the year, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, swiveling the focus on fierce competition between the two contenders to replace him.

Blankfein, 63, has steered the U.S. investment bank for nearly 12 years, outlasting calls for his departure in the aftermath of the 2007-2009 financial crisis and staying in the job even as he battled cancer.

Goldman is not looking beyond presidents and co-chief operating officers Harvey Schwartz and David Solomon to replace him, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

The two men were promoted to their current positions in December 2016. It follows a typical succession plan pattern at the Wall Street bank, which tends to name two or three people into co-head roles until one of them proves to be the right choice for further promotion.

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Schwartz, 53, had been a co-head of trading for several years before being named chief financial officer in 2012.

Solomon, 56, had been a co-head of investment banking.

Blankfein plans to retire at some point in 2019, which will be Goldman's 150th anniversary year, the Journal reported. He was named CEO in June 2006 after Hank Paulson left to become U.S. Treasury Secretary.

His former chief operating officer, Gary Cohn, had waited years to succeed Blankfein and left Goldman Sachs to join the Trump administration as to White House economic adviser. He said on Tuesday he is resigning, without saying what he would do next.

Goldman declined to comment on the Journal report. Its shares were up 1.3 percent on Friday. (Reporting by Parikshit Mishra in Bengaluru and Catherine Ngai in New York Writing by Lauren Tara LaCapra Editing by Sai Sachin Ravikumar and Susan Thomas)

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