Many Wall Street economists see government spending cuts in March

Economists at many of Wall Street's top financial institutions do not expect the government to complete a deal to fully avoid automatic cuts in federal spending before a March 1 deadline, according to a Reuters poll conducted on Friday.

Economists at 11 of 13 primary dealers - the 21 large financial institutions that do business directly with the Federal Reserve - said they expect spending cuts in some form to launch on March 1.

The across-the-board spending reductions were postponed for two months as part of a deal that ended the "fiscal cliff" standoff at the beginning of the year.

Also in the poll, eight of 15 primary dealers said the Fed would wind up its current stimulus program of Treasuries purchases in 2013, while six said the program would end in 2014 and one said it would finish in 2015.

A similar poll on January 4 found nine of 16 dealers calling for an end in 2013 to the current program of buying $45 billion per month of Treasuries.

The median of forecasts from 15 dealers was for the Fed to eventually buy a total of $600 billion of Treasuries under the program.

That compared with a median of $540 billion on the January 4 poll. The increase in the latest poll may not reflect a change of expectations however, as the participants in the two polls were not exactly the same.

A total of 10 primary dealers said they expect the U.S. unemployment rate to fall to 6.5 percent in 2015, while five said it would dip to that level in 2014.

In the January 4 poll, nine of 16 primary dealers said the unemployment rate would fall to 6.5 percent in 2015, while six said it would dip to that level in 2014 and one said it would happen in 2016.

The Fed reiterated at the conclusion of its policy meeting this week it expects to hold interest rates at the current level of zero to 0.25 percent at least as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6.5 percent and inflation between one and two years ahead is projected to be no more than 2.5 percent.

The poll was conducted on Friday after the government said the unemployment rate rose to 7.9 percent in January from 7.8 percent in December.

(Reporting by Chris Reese; Additional reporting by Caryn Trokie; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)