Alan Blinder Bio Photo

Economic Outlook by Alan Blinder

November 2017
Alan S. Blinder

Vice Chairman and Co-Founder, Promontory Interfinancial Network
Professor of Economics and Public Affairs, Princeton University

Did anyone really expect the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) to raise interest rates on November 1, or even to make news with its statement? If they did, they were sorely—and predictably—disappointed.

The Fed is in no rush to raise rates. (Why should they be? Inflation is still below target.) And the Committee appears to be on track to move up another 25 basis points in December. Besides, Janet Yellen, her colleagues, every Fed watcher, and anyone else who pays attention to the Fed were all eagerly awaiting President Trump’s announcement, due the next day, of his pick to lead the central bank after February. Why, at such a delicate time, would Yellen want to rock the boat?

She didn’t, of course. Almost the only words that changed from the September 20 FOMC statement to the November 1 FOMC statement pertained to the economic impacts of the hurricanes. The Committee needed to show it was awake and sentient—and knew it was November, not September.

President Trump’s expected announcement did indeed come the next day. He selected Jerome (“Jay”) Powell to succeed Yellen. There can be little doubt that Powell will be confirmed by the Senate though I, for one, would not want to predict how long this will take. What can we expect from the new Fed chair?

Regarding bank regulation, Chairman Powell will probably have a lighter touch than Chair Yellen. Everyone is saying this, but don’t exaggerate the differences. Just as she was not a fanatic regulator, he will not be a fanatic deregulator. We are talking about shades of difference, not black vs. white.

Regarding monetary policy, it will be hard to see any differences at all between the outgoing and incoming Fed chairs. As a governor for five years, Powell’s monetary policy was straight Bernanke and then straight Yellen. Expect that attitude to continue as Powell assumes the top spot. Furthermore, Yellen leaves office with the FOMC already moving along a gradual path to higher interest rates and a very gradual path to a smaller balance sheet. Expect those two trends to continue, too.

If there is going to be a difference between Yellen-led monetary policy and Powell-led monetary policy, we won’t see it until something about the economic outlook changes. Almost by definition, no such thing is on the horizon now.