Fed Chair Jerome Powell could resign if ‘browbeaten’ enough: Wealth fund advisor Sri-Kumar

FAN Editor

If Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell is “browbeaten” enough, he could ultimately resign, macroeconomic forecaster Komal Sri-Kumar told CNBC on Monday.

President Donald Trump has continually slammed the central bank, and particularly Powell, for raising interest rates. He blames its policies for past stock market declines and slow economic growth.

“If they were ever to increase rates, God forbid, before the November 2020 elections, I think the drumbeat to try to get … [Powell] out of office would be great,” said Sri-Kumar, founder of Sri-Kumar Global Strategies. The economic consultancy advises multinational firms and sovereign wealth funds.

“It is not as if the president can fire the Fed chairman. He cannot. But he can make it extremely uncomfortable to occupy that position,” he said on “Power Lunch.”

Powell, however, has dismissed such talk. In an interview with the CBS program “60 Minutes” in March, he was asked whether he listened to the president. He responded, “I don’t comment on the president or any elected official.” When asked if the president could fire him, Powell said, “Well, the law is clear that I have a four-year term. And I fully intend to serve it.”

The Fed last raised rates in December and at the time implied two hikes in 2019. However, in early January, Powell said the central bank would be “patient” in its approach to monetary policy. Then in March, the Federal Open Market Committee suggested no more rate increases will be coming this year.

Chicago Federal Reserve President Charles Evans told CNBC on Monday that he’d be comfortable leaving interest rates alone until autumn 2020 to help ensure sustained inflation in the U.S. However, he said he wouldn’t categorize the December 2018 rate hike as a mistake.

Sri-Kumar thinks the Fed loses credibility when it doesn’t recognize that it made an error, pointing to Powell’s “pivot” in January, just weeks after the central bank suggested two hikes for 2019.

“Something is wrong with that,” he said. “You can’t expect to be credible under those circumstances.”

In fact, he believes the Fed responded to the markets in shifting its policy this year. And that is not in its edict.

“The Fed’s mandate supposed to be employment and inflation.”

Sri-Kumar contends that if the central bank puts its plan on hold to increase rates and then helps the market go up, it creates a “moral hazard.”

“It tells me the Fed is going to be providing me a ‘Powell put’ and I can keep pushing up equity prices because if there is a correction, the Fed is going to support me.”

However, Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Securities, believes the Fed’s change of heart had a lot to do with global economic conditions.

“Think back to how we felt about the world in December and how we think about it now. We certainly are in a different place,” he said on “Power Lunch.” “The Fed has done a good job at being very transparent, but they’re clearly at neutral.”

While he sees no rate hikes or rate cuts on the horizon, he thinks that could change since the Fed is data dependent.

“If the data improve, and that’s what markets would like see, they’ll probably have to raise rates, sooner rather than later,” Hogan said.

The Fed declined to comment on Sri-Kumar’s remarks.

— CNBC’s Thomas Franck contributed to this story.

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