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VOL. 41 | NO. 47 | Friday, November 24, 2017

Powell casts himself as a figure of stability for the Fed

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Jerome Powell says that if confirmed as the next chairman of the Federal Reserve, he expects the Fed to continue raising interest rates gradually to support its twin goals of maximum employment and stable prices.

Under his leadership, Powell also says, the Fed would consider ways to ease the regulatory burdens on banks while preserving the key reforms Congress passed to try to prevent another financial crisis.

Powell's comments came in written testimony prepared for his confirmation hearing Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee.

A member of the Fed's board since 2012, Powell was nominated by President Donald Trump to succeed Janet Yellen after her four-year term as chair ends in February. Trump decided against offering Yellen a second term.

In his remarks released Monday, Powell sought to send the reassuring message that he would represent a figure of stability and continuity at the nation's central bank while remaining open to making certain changes as appropriate.

On banking regulations, Powell said in his testimony, "We will continue to consider appropriate ways to ease regulatory burdens while preserving core reforms ... so that banks can provide the credit to families and businesses necessary to sustain a prosperous economy."

Among those reforms, Powell mentioned the stricter standards for capital and liquidity that banks must maintain under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and the annual "stress tests" that the biggest banks must undergo to show they could withstand a severe downturn.

Regarding interest rates, Powell said, "We expect interest rates to rise somewhat further and the size of our balance sheet to gradually shrink." The Fed has begun gradually shrinking its balance sheet, which swelled after the financial crisis from bond purchases it made to help reduce long-term borrowing rates.

The Yellen Fed has raised rates four times starting in December 2015, including two rate hikes this year. Economists expect a third rate hike to occur in December, and they're projecting at least three additional rate increases in 2018.

Powell cautioned that while Fed officials want to make the path of interest rate policy as predictable as possible, "the future cannot be known with certainty." For that reason, he said, it's important for the Fed to retain the flexibility it needs to adjust its policies in response to economic developments.

In deciding not to offer Yellen another four years as chair, Trump made her the only Fed leader in nearly four decades not to be offered a second term.

Yellen, a Democrat who was nominated by President Barack Obama and became the first woman to lead the Fed, announced last week that she would step down from the Fed board once Powell is confirmed to succeed her as chair. Yellen could have remained on the board even after Powell became chair.

Yellen will leave the Fed in February after a tenure characterized by a cautious stance toward rate hikes, relative transparency about the Fed's expectations and projections and support for the stricter bank rules that were enacted after the 2008 financial crisis.

In his five years as a member of the Fed's seven-member board of governors, Powell has built a reputation as a centrist. He never dissented from the policies advocated by Yellen or her predecessor, Ben Bernanke.

In his own remarks on rate policies, Powell has so far stuck close to the Yellen line. In a speech in June, he said that while low unemployment argued for raising rates, weak inflation suggested that the Fed should move cautiously in doing so. That wary approach reflected Yellen's own warnings about the need to raise rates only incrementally, depending on the latest economic data.

Powell's actions on the Dodd-Frank Act, the law enacted to tighten banking regulations after the 2008 crisis, may turn out to be the area where he will differ most from his predecessor. Yellen rejected arguments that the tighter regulations had hurt economic growth by making banks less likely to lend. Powell, for his part, has suggested that in some areas, the Dodd-Frank restrictions might have gone too far.

In a congressional appearance in June, Powell said that the "core reforms" should be retained but that in some respects there was a need to "go back and clean up our work." He indicated that two areas where loosening the rules might be considered were in easing regulations on smaller banks and revising the "Volcker rule" curbs on investment trades by big banks.

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