Yellen ‘exceptionally well qualified’ for Fed role, Obama says

President’s nominee to ‘promote employment, stable prices, sound financial system’

US president Barack Obama  applauds after announcing his nomination of Janet Yellen  to head the Federal Reserve at the White House in Washington yesterday. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

US president Barack Obama applauds after announcing his nomination of Janet Yellen to head the Federal Reserve at the White House in Washington yesterday. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters


Federal Reserve vice chair Janet Yellen, president Barack Obama’s pick to lead the US central bank, said yesterday that strengthening the economic recovery and boosting employment would be priorities if she is confirmed as Fed leader.

MsYellen, an advocate of the central bank’s aggressive actions to stimulate economic growth through low interest rates and large-scale bond purchases, would replace Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, whose second term ends on January 31st.

The nomination would put Ms Yellen on course to be the first woman to lead the institution and the first to head a central bank in any Group of Seven industrial nation.

At a White House ceremony where Mr Obama announced her nomination, Ms Yellen said she would promote maximum employment, stable prices, and a sound financial system as the top US central banker and noted there was more to do to ensure people who were out of work could find jobs.

“While we have made progress, we have farther to go. The mandate of the Federal Reserve is to serve all the American people, and too many Americans still can’t find a job and worry how they’ll pay their bills and provide for their families,” the 67-year-old former professor said.

Ms Yellen will provide continuity with the policies the Bernanke-led Fed has pursued, and is likely to move cautiously in reining in the extensive monetary stimulus the central bank put in place to shore up the world’s largest economy.

Her fealty to the extraordinary policy tactics the Fed employed in an effort to beat back the 2007-2009 recession and spur faster job growth concerns some Republican who fear the measures will unleash inflation or fuel asset bubbles.

Despite such opposition, Ms Yellen has strong support from fellow Democrats and is expected to be confirmed by the Senate.

“Janet is exceptionally well qualified for this role,” Mr Obama said with a beaming Ms Yellen by his side. “She doesn’t have a crystal ball, but what she does have is a keen understanding about how markets and the economy work, not just in theory but also in the real world. And she calls it like she sees it.”

Easy money

The US central bank has held interest rates near zero since late 2008. It has also roughly quadrupled its balance sheet to about $3.7 trillion through three rounds of massive bond purchases to press down longer-term borrowing costs.

“Yellen’s nomination is a clear signal that the highly accommodative monetary policy stance will likely remain in place,” wrote Barclays economist Michael Gapen in New York.

While analysts said Ms Yellen’s policy approach should be supportive for stock markets that have come to rely on easy money from the Fed, the market reaction yesterday did not provide a clear read on investor sentiment.

Stocks closed modestly higher, lifted in part by rising hopes that Congress could break a political impasse that has led to a partial government shutdown and now threatens a possible default. The US Treasury has warned it could run out of cash quickly to pay the nation’s bills if lawmakers do not raise the government’s $16.7 trillion debt ceiling soon.

The Fed is currently buying bonds at a monthly pace of $85 billion. It surprised investors in September when it delayed an anticipated reduction in its purchases.

Economists, watching tepid signals on growth and hiring, wonder if a decision to scale back might be delayed until Yellen is in charge next year, but minutes of the Fed’s September meeting released yesterday showed policymakers were close to acting.

Mr Obama settled on Ms Yellen after his former economic adviser Lawrence Summers withdrew from consideration in the face of fierce opposition within the president’s own Democratic Party that raised questions about his chances of congressional confirmation. Mr Summers would have been expected to pull back the Fed’s support for the economy more quickly.

With markets jittery about a potential US default, Mr Obama appeared to want to provide reassurance with his words about Ms Yellen. He noted her ability to reach consensus with colleagues - something Mr Summers’ opponents say he lacked - and her success at predicting the risks of a major recession before it happened.

“Given the urgent economic challenges facing our nation, I urge the Senate to confirm Janet without delay,” Mr Obama said. “I am absolutely confident that she will be an exceptional chair of the Federal Reserve.”


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