Why a new Federal Reserve chair won't rattle markets

Myles Udland
Markets Reporter

In February 2018, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s four years at the top of the central bank will come to an end. And sometime before then, President Donald Trump will nominate a replacement in what could be the most consequential economic decision of his presidency so far.

Or maybe it actually won’t be such a big deal.

Rick Rieder, global chief investment officer of fixed income at BlackRock (BLK), said Thursday that as markets have started to handicap the race to replace Yellen, it’s worth keeping in mind that unlike an elected office, the top spot at the Federal Reserve doesn’t bring with it the kind of regime change that some might expect.

Janet Yellen’s current turn at the chair expires in February, and the Trump administration is looking into either re-nominating her, or replacing her.

“I think there’s one thing that’s really important about the institution of the Federal Reserve that I think is different than an elected official,” Rieder said.

“Elected officials oftentimes come in and talk about the prior person who occupied that seat and change it dramatically. At the Fed, the staff drives a lot of the thinking and so, at least for the near-term, I think [the impact a new Chair would have on markets] is muted.”

Meet the frontrunners for Fed Chair

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met with both Kevin Warsh, a former Fed governor, and Jerome Powell, a current Fed governor, to discuss their nomination to the top spot. A report from Bloomberg on Tuesday indicated that Warsh and Powell, along with Yellen and Trump’s top economic advisor Gary Cohn, were on a short list of candidates for the job. John Taylor, an economics professor at Stanford, is also reportedly under consideration for the job.

Possible contenders for Fed Chair.

Warsh was appointed during the Bush administration and served with the Fed through the financial crisis, and while Bernanke called Warsh’s advice “invaluable” in his 2015 book “The Courage to Act,” he was critical of some of the Fed’s decisions to expand its quantitative easing program after the crisis period.

Widely-followed bond investor Jeffrey Gundlach, speaking at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit on Tuesday, said he thinks that current Minneapolis Fed president Neel Kashkari will be the next Fed chair. And while Kashkari’s odds to be the next Fed chair shot up in prediction markets following Gundlach’s comment, he did concede that, “I think I’m the only person on God’s green earth” who believes the next Fed chair will be Kashkari.

Rieder, however, did say that while Warsh and Powell appear to be the current favorites to succeed Yellen, “I think there’s always a chance that it’s another candidate.”

“My sense is that [the Trump administration] can cast a wide net,” Rieder said. And so unlike a book award that selects a winner from a short-list of candidates, the White House’s Fed search is not subject to such constraints.

And overall, Rieder thinks that recent history shows the Fed has a tendency to keep its policy goals aligned when moving from one Fed chair to another. “I think you saw this from Bernanke evolving to Yellen,” Rieder said. “You put in place a program and the next Chair tends to execute that.”

The balance sheet run-off, for example, that the Fed announced in September is likely to remain in place, or as Rieder said, will be on “autopilot.”

At her press conference following the Fed’s September 21 policy announcement, Yellen emphasized that unless extraordinary circumstances arose — think, another financial crisis-type event in markets — the balance sheet reduction would not likely be paused until its forecast completion early next decade.

Myles Udland is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @MylesUdland

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