Trump seen replacing Yellen as Fed chief with Gary Cohn

Gary Cohn and US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin depart from a meeting on tax reform on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Gary Cohn and US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin depart from a meeting on tax reform on Capitol Hill in Washington.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - President Donald Trump is increasingly unlikely to nominate Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen next year for a second term, and National Economic Council director Gary Cohn is the leading candidate to succeed her, Politico reported on Tuesday (July 12), citing four people close to the process.

Politico said sources in the White House, the Treasury Department and on Capitol Hill said that if Mr Cohn decides he wants the job, he is likely to get it.

"It's Gary's if he wants it, and I think he wants it," Politico quoted one Republican whom it said was close to the selection process as saying.

A few Senate Republicans may express reservations about Mr Cohn but he would probably receive widespread support, a senior congressional Republican aide said, according to Politico.

In response to a query from Reuters, White House spokesman Natalie Strom said: "Gary is focused on his responsibilities at the NEC."

Mr Cohn, a Democrat and former Goldman Sachs president, did not work on Mr Trump's campaign and only got to know him after the November election.

Dr Yellen took over from Mr Ben Bernanke as Fed chair in February 2014 with the US economic recovery from the 2008 financial crisis still on shaky ground. She has made no secret that she puts a priority on growth in jobs and wages and a broad recovery in US household wealth.

The Fed chairman begins two days of congressional testimony on Wednesday (July 12) on the central bank's semi-annual report on the state of the US economy. Under her leadership, the Fed has pared the massive stimulus it put in place to counteract the 2007-2009 financial crisis and begun raising interest rates. Later this year, Dr Yellen expects to begin trimming the Fed's US$4.5 trillion (S$6.2 trillion) balance sheet in a gradual and predictable manner.

"I do think the Fed's trying to set a course towards normalisation that won't be knocked out by a new Fed chair," said Mr Eric Stein, co-director of global income at Eaton Vance.

Still, Mr Cohn would be a very different kind of leader than Dr Yellen or her immediate predecessor, Mr Bernanke, both of whom hold doctorates in economics.

Mr Cohn began his career at Goldman as a commodities trader in 1990.

He has more knowledge of financial markets than almost any Fed chair would have and less of a monetary policy background," Mr Stein said.

During last year's election campaign, Mr Trump accused Dr Yellen of accepting orders from then President Barack Obama to keep interest rates low for political reasons, and he said he would replace her as Fed chair because she is not a Republican Party member.

But in an interview with The Wall Street Journal in April, Mr Trump said Dr Yellen was "not toast" and that he respected her.

A Fed spokesman had no comment on the Politico story.

Dr Yellen has said she plans to serve out her full four-year term as chair, which runs through Feb 3.

Mr Cohn would join several other Goldman alumni around the Fed policymaking table, including New York Fed president William Dudley, Minneapolis Fed president Neel Kashkari and Dallas Fed president Robert Kaplan.