Concerns about the independence of the Federal Reserve may be exacerbating turmoil in financial markets, says David Kotok, co-founder and chief investment officer of Cumberland Advisors, which has $2.9 billion in assets under management.
“Political shenanigans and influence pose a continuing threat to central bank independence, and the outlook in the U.S. is worsening for the Fed’s independence,” writes Kotok in his latest market commentary.
Kotok notes that the Federal Reserve currently “functions without a full Board of Governors because of politics. So right now the five voting presidents outnumber the three voting governors, and that is likely to be the situation for months.”
He’s referring to the five Fed Bank presidents who sit on the central bank’s Federal Open Market Committee, which sets Fed policy including interest rates.
There are four vacancies on the seven-member Federal Reserve Board of Governors and one nominee, Marvin Goodfriend, an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University, may not garner enough votes for confirmation.
Goodfriend won Senate Banking Committee approval last week in a tight 13-to-12 partisan vote, but no vote is scheduled yet in the full Senate. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has said he opposes Goodfriend’s nomination; Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is ailing and may not be able to vote; and Democrats are expected to oppose his nomination.
President Donald Trump hasn’t nominated others to the board.
The current three-member board includes Chairman Jerome Powell, a former Fed governor, who only recently took the helm after Trump decided against reappointing Janet Yellen to the job; Lael Brainard; and Randal K. Quarles, vice chair for supervision, who was appointed by Trump. The critical post of vice chair for the Fed’s full board of governors remains vacant.
In addition to its vacancies, the Fed recently lost $2.5 billion from the part of its surplus that isn’t remitted to the U.S. Treasury. Congress raided the surplus to help pass the budget bill, says Kotok, citing a Bloomberg story. It wasn’t the first time for Congress, which also raided funds to help finance a highway spending program and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, according to Kotok.
“What is next?” he asks. “This type of raid bypasses the traditional budget-determined spending and taxing mechanism. It hides things from scrutiny.”
The Fed is not the only central bank subject to political pressures. Leadership changes, which will be decided by political leaders, are expected at European Central Bank — President Mario Draghi’s term ends next year — and at the Bank of Japan and People’s Bank of China, says Kotok.
“Market turmoil worldwide is raising volatility. Central banks’ exposure to politics seems to be part of the cause.”
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