Yellen endorses Powell for second Fed term, boosting his reappointment odds

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Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has reportedly told senior White House advisers that she supports reappointing Jerome Powell as Federal Reserve chair, a key endorsement that likely boosts his odds for a second term.

Bloomberg News reported that while President Biden has not yet made a decision, uncertainty over the economic impact of the highly contagious delta variant may have triggered more caution about changing leadership at the U.S. central bank.

Powell, a lawyer by training and a former Republican Treasury official, is generally respected on Wall Street and well-liked among lawmakers in both parties; Fed chairs – one of the most powerful players in Washington, with the ability to dictate the pace of economic growth – are typically nominated for a second term, often to reinforce the central bank's independence from politics. 

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Yellen's backing amplifies Powell's odds of a second term, given her nearly two decades of experience at the Fed, including four years leading the central bank. She also has experience working directly with Powell, who served as a governor at the Fed under her leadership.

In 2018, Powell replaced Yellen at the helm of the Fed after he was nominated by former President Donald Trump, making her the first chair to not be reappointed after serving a first full-term.

Powell's term officially ends in February 2022, but the White House has indicated it will make a decision by Labor Day. 

Yellen's support comes at a critical time for both the Fed and Powell: Policymakers are weighing how and when to begin unwinding some of the ultra-easy monetary policies put in place to support the U.S. economy during the pandemic. It's a difficult needle to thread, with Fed officials attempting to strike a delicate balance between surging inflation and the still-recovering labor market.

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On Friday, Powell is slated to deliver a highly anticipated speech for the Kansas City Fed's annual Jackson Hole Symposium, where he's expected to shed additional light on the Fed's plans for pulling back on monetary support.

Fed policymakers in July committed to holding the benchmark federal funds rate at a range between 0% and 0.25%, where it has been since March 2020, and to keep purchasing $120 billion in bonds each month, a policy known as "quantitative easing" that's designed to keep credit cheap.

But minutes from the meeting show that most officials are preparing for tapering to begin sometime this year. 

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"Looking ahead, most participants noted that, provided that the economy were to evolve broadly as they anticipated, they judged that it could be appropriate to start reducing the pace of asset purchases this year," the minutes said.

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