For over a week now the financial markets were taking it easy on the American dollar. Investors almost stopped trading USD pairs this week as we all waited for one important announcement that happened yesterday – President Trump’s nomination of a new head of the Federal Reserve. He chose Jerome Powell for this position, so let’s take a look at what this entails.
To start with, it is important to remember that the President’s rule is not absolute – he cannot appoint a Fed chief, but merely nominate one. It is up to the Senate to decide whether they accept the nomination or not. So, technically speaking, Powell’s position is not 100% confirmed yet.
So, who is Jerome Powell? Unlike the previous Federal Reserve chiefs over the last 40 years, Powell does not have a PhD in Economics, but is instead a lawyer by training. However, he has had a long career within the finance world that includes investment banking, a position in the U.S. Treasury during Bush senior’s presidency, and a post as governor within the Federal Reserve for the last few years. He has been working closely with current head Janet Yellen, so he knows all about the current trend of policy making employed by the Fed. In many ways he seems like the perfect candidate for the job, since he’s already involved and up-to-date with the Fed.
In terms of his policy outlook, Powell has been on the same page as the current Fed chief Janet Yellen. That means that while the Federal Reserve in general plans to reduce its investments (after the 2008 crisis the Fed bought trillions of dollars worth of assets in order to boost the economy) and increase interest rates, Powell’s goal would be to do it slowly, gradually. Even though economic data from the United States is coming in consistently positive, the economy is still vulnerable to sudden changes. The Federal Reserve is also struggling with an issue of mixed signals – strong statistics and low unemployment are begging for a rate hike, but low inflation is saying it’s too early. It’s a tricky balance that Yellen has managed to keep with remarkable patience and attention to detail. It is expected that Powell’s approach will be similar.
The markets didn’t have a major reaction to the announcement. As evidenced above, Powell is expected to pretty much replace Yellen unnoticeably, with no major changes in policy. He was also rumored to be the top candidate for the job weeks before the announcement, due to his current prominent post within the Federal Reserve. He is also a Republican, which makes him an even more desirable choice for President Trump and a mostly-Republican Senate.
There was some space for surprise, in case Trump nominated someone else with a different economic opinion, such as John Taylor. The Stanford economist is known for his much more hawkish stance on monetary policy, and if he had been nominated, it is likely that the dollar would have received a major boost.
Since the nomination went on without any major surprises, we can say that in terms of the American dollar, in 2018 we expect things to continue in much the same way as now: slowly, patiently, with a close attention to each report on the American economy and inflation. Meanwhile, an interest rate increase in December, still under Yellen’s guidance, is still expected.