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Fed leadership overhaul widens under Trump

A revamping of the Federal Reserve’s leadership is widening with the announcement that William Dudley, president of the New York Fed and the No. 2 official on the Fed’s key interest rate panel, will retire next year.

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump chose Fed board member Jerome Powell to replace Janet Yellen as Fed chair in February. The post of Fed vice chair remains vacant. So do two additional seats on the Fed’s seven-member board. And a fourth seat may open as well next year.

The unusual pace of the turnover has given Trump the rare opportunity for a president to put his personal stamp on the makeup of the Fed, which operates as an independent agency. Investors are awaiting signals of how Trump’s upcoming selections might alter the Fed’s approach to interest rates and regulations.

Trump has made it known that he favors low interest rates. He has also called for a loosening of financial regulations. The Fed has played a key role in overseeing the tighter regulations that were enacted after the 2008 financial crisis, which nearly toppled the banking system.

The uncertainty surrounding the Fed’s top policymakers has been heightened by the slow pace with which the Trump administration has moved to fill openings.

To date, the administration has placed one new person on the Fed board: Randal Quarles, a veteran of the private equity industry who is thought to favor looser regulations, was confirmed as the first vice chairman for supervision. That still left three vacancies on the Fed’s board: Just as Quarles was joining the board last month, Stanley Fischer was stepping down as Fed vice chairman.

And Yellen herself could decide to leave the board when her term as chair ends on Feb. 3, even though her separate term on the board runs until 2024.

Dudley’s announcement that he plans to retire by mid-2018 also creates an opening on the committee of board members and bank presidents who set interest rate policies. Dudley’s position is particularly crucial: As head of the New York Fed, he is a permanent voting member of the Fed committee that sets interest rates.

The committee is composed of the board members and five of the 12 regional bank presidents. Unlike the New York Fed president, the other regional bank presidents vote on a rotating basis. The New York Fed president also serves as vice chairman of the rate-setting panel.

Some economists said that while financial markets have so far registered little concern about the number of key open Fed positions, that could change quickly, especially if investors begin to worry that the central bank will accelerate interest rate hikes.

“We need to get rid of this uncertainty, and until these seats are filled, there is going to be uncertainty,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at DS Economics.

Analysts are trying to read the two decisions Trump has made — picking Powell for the top job and Quarles for the key post for banking supervision — as signs for where he might be headed. With Powell, the president opted for continuity on rates by selecting someone who for years was the lone Republican on the board but who remained a reliable vote for the gradual approach to rate hikes Yellen favored.

 

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