Goldman's Q&A On Stanley Fischer As The Next Fed Vice Chairman

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Since the bank that decides what happens at the NY Fed, and by implication, at the broader Federal Reserve system, is none other than Goldman Sachs, it would be informative to read what none other than Goldman thinks of Ben Bernanke's thesis advisor Stanley Fischer, formerly head of the Bank of Israel, as the next vice chairman - as he is now actively rumored to become shortly. Conveniently, here is just such a Q&A from Goldman's Jan Hatzius - the man who feeds Bill Dudley all his economic and monetary insights over lobster sandwiches at the Pound and Pence.

Q&A on Stanley Fischer

  • Stanley Fischer?formerly governor of the Bank of Israel and first deputy managing director of the IMF?appears very likely to be nominated for the position of Fed Vice Chairman, according to multiple media reports.
  • Fischer is a highly respected academic macroeconomist and policymaker, and would undoubtedly have a substantial amount of influence on the FOMC. When head of the Bank of Israel, he oversaw an aggressive monetary policy response to the crisis which included purchases of longer-term securities.
  • With respect to monetary policy at the zero lower bound, he has generally spoken favorably about quantitative easing but has expressed more skepticism about forward guidance. Nonetheless, we think forward guidance will continue to be a key item in the Fed's toolkit.

Stanley Fischer appears very likely to be nominated for the position of Fed Vice Chairman, according to multiple media reports. According to some accounts, Fischer has already been offered the job by the President and has accepted it, although a formal announcement is not expected immediately.

Q. How does Fischer broadly think about the economy?

Fischer is a highly respected academic macroeconomist. He is credited with helping to lay the foundations of New Keynesian macroeconomics, which sought to place traditional Keynesian theory on a stronger microeconomic foundation. Subscribing to this school of thought, we believe that Fischer's general view of the world is similar to that of Bernanke and Yellen, with a significant role for active fiscal and (more importantly) monetary policy. In fact, Fischer was Bernanke's dissertation adviser in graduate school, and Bernanke recently referred to him as a "role model and frequent adviser." As a result, we see little daylight between Fischer and the current core FOMC leadership with respect to their basic paradigm for thinking about the economy.

Q. How would his appointment affect the dynamics on the Committee?

Fisher is widely seen as a policy heavyweight, having not only run the Bank of Israel, but also served as the chief economist at the World Bank and First Deputy Managing Director (the number two position) at the IMF. Both his academic standing and policy experience suggest that Fischer's views will be very influential on the Committee.

Q. What are the key points from his tenure as head of the Bank of Israel?

Under his tenure, the Bank of Israel aggressively cut its policy rate from 4.25% to 0.5% in the wake of the financial crisis. Starting in February of 2009, the Bank of Israel joined the Fed in undertaking purchases of longer-dated securities, indicating a willingness to adopt unorthodox monetary policy measures. The stated intention was to "extend the effectiveness of monetary policy onto longer interest rate maturities." However, later in 2009 the Bank of Israel began hiking its policy rate, in advance of all major global central banks. We do not see this as necessarily indicating a "hawkish" policy bias on the part of Fischer, but rather a reaction to the fact that economic developments in Israel were substantially different from those prevailing in the G4 economies. The Bank of Israel did not adopt explicit calendar- or outcome-based forward guidance under his leadership.

Q. What are his views on balance sheet policy?

Fischer generally holds a favorable view on the effectiveness of balance sheet policy. As noted, the Bank of Israel began a program of longer-dated securities purchases under his watch. He also stated in a November speech at the IMF that one of the key lessons from the financial crisis, in his view, was that monetary policy is not impotent once the zero lower bound on short-term interest rates has been hit. He specifically highlighted the efficacy of the Fed's QE?which he said was supported by a substantial amount of academic work?and did not explicitly mention forward guidance on the path of short-term interest rates.

Q. What does he think about forward guidance?

In contrast to his statements on QE, he has recently expressed a more skeptical view of forward guidance. Specifically, he noted in September that "if you give too much forward guidance you do take away flexibility," that "we don’t know what we’ll be doing a year from now. It’s a mistake to try and get too precise," and that "you can’t expect the Fed to spell out what it’s going to do…because it doesn’t know." These statements contrast with Yellen's strong endorsement of forward guidance. In that sense, Fischer's statements do pose at least some risk to our expectation that the FOMC will ultimately enhance its forward guidance by reducing the unemployment threshold to 6.0%. That said, such a limited number of statements are unlikely to capture all of the nuances of Fischer's thinking on the topic. One can also argue that his criticisms apply mostly to calendar-based guidance and less to outcome-based guidance, which only requires the Fed to "spell out what it's going to do" in a more conditional sense. In any case, we have little doubt that Yellen and Fischer would see eye to eye on the need to prevent a large tightening of financial conditions anytime soon, so the slightly greater uncertainty that might result from his nomination is mainly about tactics, not strategy.

Q. What is the likelihood of confirmation?

If nominated, we think Fischer would very likely be confirmed. In the unlikely event that his confirmation faced substantial opposition from Republicans, the recent change to Senate rules requiring only a simple majority to break a filibuster on confirmation votes ensures that he could be confirmed with only Democratic votes.