President Obama has just nominated Lael Brainard as a Fed Governor, Jerome Powell to his second term and most notably, Stanley Fischer (ex Head of the Bank of Israel) as Vice-Chairman of the Fed. "These three distinguished individuals have the proven experience, judgment and deep knowledge of the financial system to serve at the Federal Reserve during this important time for our economy,” Obama said in statement. Bear in mind that Fischer is skeptical of forward-guidance (as we note below) which is soon to become the Fed's main weapon to jawbone markets.
- Stanley Fischer's term as governor runs through 2020 (vice chair through 2018), Brainard's term through 2026 and Powell's through 2028!
Tenure anyone? We are sure they will still do a great job...
As we noted previously, Fischer brings some interesting views:
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.