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St. Louis Fed's Bullard 'would love' to be Fed chair

St. Louis Fed President James Bullard told reporters Friday that he would be interested in becoming chair of the Federal Reserve, but says he has not been called on for a position.

“Fed chair is, of course, something I’d love to do,” Bullard said. “I’ve been in the Fed all my life, all my professional career, and if I ever got that honor I would certainly take it.”

Bullard added that his phone “hasn’t been ringing off the hook to get” the Fed job, and that “the stars have to align for that to happen.”

Bullard’s dovishness could make him an attractive replacement for Fed Chairman Jerome Powell if President Donald Trump aspires to have a new face at the head of the central bank. Trump has tweeted many times about his disappointment with the central bank’s decision to raise rates four times in 2018, calling on the Fed to slash rates by as much as 100 basis points and resume the process of asset purchases referred to as “quantitative easing.”

St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank President James Bullard speaks at a public lecture in Singapore October 8, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su
St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank President James Bullard speaks at a public lecture in Singapore October 8, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su

Bullard has been one of the more outspokenly dovish members of the current Fed, and notably disagreeing with the decision to raise interest rates as much as the Powell-led Fed did in 2018. In the June 19 meeting where the Fed opted to hold rates steady at the current target range of 2.25% to 2.50%, Bullard dissented against the decision — the first under Jerome Powell in a monetary policy-setting meeting.

After the June 19 meeting he wrote that a 25-basis-point cut in that meeting would have been appropriate to “provide insurance against further declines in expected inflation and a slowing economy subject to elevated downside risks.”

Speaking to reporters, Bullard said he sees the case for a 25 basis point cut in the Fed’s July 31 meeting, adding that policymakers should deliver on the rate cut that it had signaled in June.

“You do have to ratify that at this point and follow through,” Bullard said.

Bullard said the data since the June 19 meeting, such as an estimate-beating jobs report and gains in retail sales, were “good and encouraging” but said they were still in the context of a slowing economy.

Powell replacement?

Trump has been calling for rate cuts, tweeting Friday morning that if the Fed had not “acted so fast” on rate hikes, the economy “would be doing even better than we are doing right now.”

“Don’t blow it!” Trump tweeted.

Trump has reportedly explored options for firing Powell, although the law says that a chair can only be removed by the president “for cause.” Since a Fed chair has never been forcibly removed before, there is no precedent for what type of activity would warrant firing “for cause.”

Trump’s top economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, said July 9 that there was no effort at the time to remove Powell.

Assuming Trump cannot remove Powell by force, Powell would remain Fed chair until his term ends in 2022. If Trump wins re-election, he could then choose to renominate him or replace him with a new nominee who would need confirmation from the Senate.

With a dovish view on monetary policy and a career inside the Fed that is unlikely to cause controversy in a confirmation hearing, Bullard could be a replacement.

Trump has made contact with the St. Louis Fed on at least another nomination: Christopher Waller for a role as Fed governor. Waller is currently a director of research for the reserve bank.

Bullard said he would not be interested in a governor role since he is already serving as a voting member of the FOMC, adding after the fact that he would love to be Fed chair.

Brian Cheung is a reporter covering the banking industry and the intersection of finance and policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter @bcheungz.

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