Who is Jerome 'Jay' Powell? 5 things about new Fed chief

Jerome Powell, a member of the Federal Reserve’s board since 2012, in Washington, on Oct 31, 2017. PHOTO: NYTIMES
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WASHINGTON - Jerome Powell will officially take over the US Federal Reserve on Saturday (Feb 3), replacing Janet Yellen as head of the world's most influential central bank.

Here is more about him:

1. He doesn't have an economics degree

He will be the first Fed chief in four decades without an economics degree.

The 64-year-old Powell studied politics at Princeton University, then earned a law degree from Georgetown University before embarking on a career in investment banking in New York.

He entered public service in 1990 when he went to work for his former boss, then Treasury secretary Nicholas Brady, as under-secretary for finance.

Since 2012, he has served on the Fed's policy-setting board of governors after being picked by US President Barack Obama. He worked hard for the job - gathering stacks of papers on the questions of the day, then reading and discussing the findings with colleagues.

Jon Faust, a professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University who worked with Powell at the Fed, said he showed a strong grasp of monetary policy.

But he went on to say if a recession strikes, it might be important to have a trained economist as chairman.

2. He's more dove than hawk - but some say owl

Most Fed watchers say Powell is likely to keep US interest rates low, going by his voting record in the Fed and public comments so far.

If he keeps to a course of steady but gradual rate increases, he will be following in the footsteps of Yellen.

Fed officials are labelled "hawks" if they favour higher interest rates to control inflation, or "doves" if they want to keep rates low.

But Richard Fisher, a colleague and former president of the Dallas Fed bank, says Powell is neither hawk nor dove but a "wise owl" - because he is "moderate to a fault".

"I've tried to get him to drink more than two glasses of wine at dinner, and he will not do it," he said.

Investors in a survey conducted by Evercore said they expect Powell to raise rates modestly higher than Yellen over time.

3. He's Fed chief because Trump is Trump

In dumping Yellen, Trump broke with a long tradition among US presidents - every Fed chairman in modern history who completed a first four-year term was nominated for a second, regardless of party affiliation. The last three Fed chairmen were nominated for new terms by a president of the opposite party.

Powell is Republican while Yellen is a Democrat. During the 2016 campaign for US president, Trump called Yellen a stooge of President Barack Obama, saying she was keeping interest rates low, stock markets up and the economy humming just to get Hillary Clinton elected.

But since becoming president himself, Trump has praised Yellen for those same reasons and said she's doing a "terrific" job.

So why the change? One reason: Trump needed to "make his mark".

When he was asked about Yellen's chances for renomination, Trump told Fox Business: "In one way, I'd have to say, you'd like to make your own mark, which is maybe one of the things she's got a little bit against her."

4. He's likely to go easier on regulating banks

Trump ran on a platform of Wall Street deregulation and Powell, unlike Yellen, has signalled an openness to watering down rules that were put in place after the global financial crisis to rein in banks, especially for smaller community banks.

Still, Powell is not all for deregulation.

At a Senate hearing in June, he agreed that there was room to improve regulation, but described the Trump administration's proposals as a "mixed bag," adding that he opposed some of the specific proposals.

"The whole idea is to preserve the significant core reforms that were made but to go back and clean up our work," he said.

5. He would be the richest Fed chief ever

In that sense, he's the typical Trump pick.

Powell's many years working in the financial industry, first at investment bank Dillon Read & Co and later at private equity giant Carlyle Group earned him a fortune.

His most recent financial disclosure in June showed a net worth of as much as US$55 million (S$74.8 million). In contrast, Yellen had assets worth up to US$16.6 million a year earlier.

As Fed chief, Powell will not be making the big bucks he did on Wall Street. The current pay for the job: US$199,700 (S$271,300) annually.

Sources: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Bloomberg News

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