US Fed to meet as Yellen era appears set to close

Yellen (above) has won plaudits for careful economic stewardship.
Yellen (above) has won plaudits for careful economic stewardship.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Federal Reserve is due to begin a two-day monetary policy meeting on Tuesday (Oct 31), largely overshadowed by this week's expected White House decision to replace central bank chief Janet Yellen.

Policymakers are unlikely to raise interest rates at the current meeting, holding off until at least December as they grapple with consistently poor inflation numbers despite falling unemployment and robust economic growth.

The White House is slated to unveil President Donald Trump's nominee for Fed chair on Thursday, the day after the meeting concludes, and media reports indicate Trump has settled on current Fed Governor Jerome Powell, a Republican attorney and a former investor.

Doing so would make Trump the first president not keep on a Fed chair installed by a preceding administration since 1978, when Jimmy Carter swapped out Arthur Burns in favour of G. William Miller as an anxious public dealt with soaring inflation.

Yellen has won plaudits for careful economic stewardship which has seen price pressures remain low amid robust job creation and historically low unemployment - conditions that have favored Wall Street's booming run in recent years.

And, despite berating her during his campaign last year, Trump has said he likes Yellen and was considering renaming her. But Trump told a Fox News host this month: "You like to make your own mark, which is maybe one of the things she's got a little bit against her."

"But I think she's terrific," he added.

MOVING IN JANUARY?

Since his appointment by Barack Obama five years ago, Powell, the only Republican hold-over currently on the Federal Reserve Board, has voted with the majority of policymakers on the Federal Open Market Committee, which sets US monetary policy.

Analysts say Powell may offer what Trump views as the best of all words - a cautious approach to raising rates, an open mind to the administration's deregulation agenda and the chance to remove a top-level Obama appointee.

"Powell is a respected guy in the committee, a smart guy, and probably would be good in the sense that, although he hasn't written about monetary policy, he has more on regulatory policy, and has had some time at the Fed to learn," Joseph Gagnon, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a former Fed official, told AFP.

As for the meeting's outcome, markets will be looking for hints as to when the next rate hike may come. Futures markets put the odds of a December hike at nearly 100 per cent.

But Beth Ann Bovino, chief US economist at S&P Global, said her organisation instead expects the central bank to wait until January, given the persistently weak inflation data.

"We're still concerned about the inflation story but we'll see what happens," she told AFP.

"At this point in time, the data aren't making us feel much more comfortable."