The "hawkish combination" of Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank President Charles I. Plosser and Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher, free-market-friendly economists who have rotated onto the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee this year, "may prove to have substantial power in setting the agenda" for Janet Yellen's first year as Fed chair, writes Guy LeBas, boss bond strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, Philadelphia.
The two had challenged aspects of ex-Fed chief Ben Bernanke's strategy of buying up mortgage bonds and other non-US Treasury debt to try and keep interest rates down/ stimulate the economy ("quantitative easing" or QE). Now, on the board, they have shifted the "real discussion," from a choice of whether or not to "taper" Fed bond-buying -- to a choice of whether to slice the Fed's monthly bond buys by "$10 billion or $20 billion," LaBas adds. The "serious fundamental economic disagreement" between the skeptical Plosser-Fisher axis, and Yellen's more activist save-the-economy views, "could prove Yellen's biggest practical challenge."
Or not: "Plosser and Fisher will remain in the vocal minority and be ignored," predicts David Nawrocki, Salisbury professor of finance at Villanova University. "Fed policy will be determined by" the chairman, appointed by the U.S. President, "and the New York Fed," as it has been for decades, with little reference to ideological nuance or regional views, he added. The stronger economy, not the minority faction, has caused the Fed to taper its bond-buying, Nawrocki told me.
Even if the skeptics lack power, debate is healthy: "Talking things out only makes for better decision making," says Robert A. Eisenbeis, economist for Vineland-based Cumberland Asset Management.
Whether Plosser and other dissidents affect policy will depend on how Yellen manages debate, Eisenbeis told me:
-- "Chairman Greenspan always led off the policy discussion, so those with differing views would seem to be at odds with the Chairman." By contrast,
-- "Under Chairman Bernanke, the order of speaking during the policy round changed: He spoke last... This gave everyone the freedom to express their views unconstrained. To my mind that was the far superior process."
-- Will Chairman Yellen accomodate critics? "Yet to be determined," Eisenbeis concluded.
ALSO: Plosser's influence may be nearing its peak. Eisenbeis noted, in response to my follow-up question, that Plosser won't likely chair the Philly Fed after his term ends in 2016: "He is not eligible to be reappointed under current rules. Presidents terms are for 5 years and terms begin in March of years beginning in one and six. President appointed before the age of 55 must retire when they reach age 65.
" Presidents appointed after the age of 55 can serve ten years or to age 72. So someone appointed at age 70, for example could serve until age 72. Plosser was over 55 when appointed so he is covered by the 10 year rule. Thus he can't be reappointed, if I understand the rules. The rules are Fed rules and not in the legislation, so they can be change and terms can be extended under special circumstances and if requested by a bank's board and approved by the board of governors. These same rules apply to first VPs as well."