Trump names Jay Powell to replace Janet Yellen as Fed chief

  • Millionaire Powell, 64, had been widely tipped as Trump’s choice
  • Yellen’s four-year term as Federal Reserve head expires in February

Donald Trump named Jerome “Jay” Powell as the new head of the Federal Reserve, the world’s most powerful central banker, on Thursday.

“He’s strong, he’s committed, he’s smart,” Trump said, introducing his appointment in a short address outside the White House. Powell praised his predecessors, Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke. He thanked the president for the “extraordinary opportunity” and said he was “committed to making the best decisions based on the best available evidence in the longstanding tradition of monetary independence”.

Trump’s pick differs little from the current chair, Yellen, in his economic views. He is, however, less qualified, male and, in line with Trump’s penchant for appointing members of the 1%, far, far richer.

Powell, a current member of the Federal Reserve board, had been widely tipped as Trump’s choice but the president teased the appointment as if announcing a new reality TV show.

“People are anxiously awaiting my decision about who the next head of the Fed will be,” Trump said on an Instagram video last week. “I have somebody very specific in mind. I think everybody will be very impressed.”

People are anxiously awaiting my decision as to who the next head of the Fed will be....

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 27, 2017

Trump even took an informal poll of Republican senators asking them to raise a hand for Powell or for John Taylor, another candidate and a Stanford economist who has been highly critical of the Fed’s low interest rate policy. (“I don’t think that’s a very good way to pick a Fed chair, so I declined to participate,” Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, a frequent Trump critic, told the New York Times.)

At the same time Trump built tension by hinting that Yellen could stay on. “I think she’s terrific. We had a great talk,” Trump told Fox Business last week. “In one way I have to say, you like to make your own mark, which is maybe one of things that she’s got a little bit against her.”

If confirmed Powell will succeed Yellen in February, when her four-year term as Fed chief expires.

While the decision goes against precedent – since the second world war, every Fed chair who completed a first term has been nominated for a second – Powell is not a change candidate. An Obama appointee, whom the former president called “tremendously qualified”, Powell has consistently voted with Yellen to keep rates low and only raise them cautiously.

But in some ways Powell is an unusual pick. A lawyer by training, he graduated from Georgetown and was editor-in-chief of the Georgetown Law Journal, and would be the first Fed chairman in three decades without a PhD in economics.

Yellen has a PhD in economics from Yale and taught at Harvard and the LSE before serving as chair of Bill Clinton’s council of economics. From there, she went on to head the San Francisco Fed before Obama appointed her as the first woman to head the central bank.

Before joining the Fed board, Powell made a fortune working as an investment banker for the Carlyle Group and is the richest member of the Fed’s board with a fortune estimated between $21.3m and $72.2m, according to disclosure forms, making him the richest member of the Fed’s board.

Powell and Yellen might have very different backgrounds but they have been in broad agreement on economic policy. Both consistently voted to keep interest rates low and to raise them only gradually as the economy escaped the clutches of the great recession. Powell has voted in favor of every Fed policy decision since his appointment in 2012.

Regulation may be one area where Powell will differ from Yellen. True to his Republican roots, Powell has intimated he would like to loosen the government’s grip on the financial sector.

In June, Powell told the Senate he was cautiously looking at how regulators could streamline the Volcker rule, regulations brought in after the financial crisis to prevent making overly risky bets like the ones that caused the crisis.

“I don’t think what we’re talking about here amounts to broad deregulation,” Powell said. “I think it amounts to making regulation more efficient, protecting the important gains we’ve made [since the financial crisis]. We’re not really talking about some massive program here.”

He has also suggested that the rules mandating more supervision by boards may also be too onerous and that the role of the board was “one of oversight, not management”.


Dominic Rushe in New York

The GuardianTramp

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