New Fed Chief Powell Needs To Let The Economy Run Hot


November 2, 2017, 4:00pm EST

BR caricatureOver the past two weeks we’ve talked about the two big central bank events. The first was the ECB’s decision last week. As expected, they signaled they will be exiting QE. The second was the anticipated announcement of a new Fed chair. This is a high consequence decision.

I thought early on that the President would show Yellen the door, given that the rate hiking campaign she has been leading at the Fed poses a threat to choke off the impact of the big fiscal stimulus efforts that have been the hallmark of the Trump Presidency.

She stayed longer than I expected. But today we get her replacement: the current voting Fed governor Jerome Powell. Powell has voted with Yellen, along the way. So, it doesn’t appear to be a philosophical change and it doesn’t appear to be a person Trump can influence – but he offers the President party alignment.

I thought Neel Kashkari had postured perfectly to get the job. He has experience at the Treasury overseeing the TARP program through the ugliest period of the financial crisis. And he’s a newbie Fed governor, but one that has dissented on rate hikes and argued to wait for inflation to take hold before moving on rates (to ensure sustainability of the recovery). That view aligns much friendlier with the Trump administrations economic plan.

The Fed chair role was, arguably (unquestionably, to me), the most important role in the world under the Bernanke reign. Bernanke was the right guy, in the right place, at the right time. As a student of the Great Depression he led the Fed through decisions that pulled the world back from the edge of total collapse. At stages through the crisis, the Fed and Bernanke took a lot of heat – and a lot of it came from world leaders, and even global central banks. But had the Fed not swiftly acted to help foreign banks early on (that were frozen from the lack of access of U.S. dollars), the global financial system would have imploded.

Other central banks then underestimated the scale of the crisis and started hiking rates too early, in 2010 and 2011, which ultimately put them back in to recession (most notably, Europe). The Fed stayed put.

Over time, Bernanke’s Fed (and his aggressive QE) proved to be right, and ultimately provided the playbook for major central banks to follow.

Under the Yellen regime, the track record has been spotty, nearly killing the recovery last year, by continually telegraphing a much tighter credit environment ahead. But the policy course was bailed out by the election of a new President and administration that is hell-bent on pumping up the economy.

Now Powell takes over at a more critical juncture. The execution on fiscal stimulus is beginning to materialize, and we’ll get to see how he navigates it. Hopefully, he’ll let the economy run a little hot (chase inflation from behind), and not allow rates (or the perception of tighter credit) to kill the animal spirits that can accompany big tax cuts and government spending programs.

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