After much speculation, President Trump has announced his pick to lead the Federal Reserve System: Jerome “Jay” Powell. How should we think about this appointment in the context of the overall Trump administration thinking on financial regulation?
Trump slammed Wall Street throughout his campaign, asserting big banks had “gotten away with murder.” The Republican National Convention platform even mentioned a new Glass-Steagall (the Great Depression-era restriction on banks’ activities). Still, many questioned whether the Trump administration, including Powell, was committed to implementing policies tough on global megabanks.
The answer is no.
There are actually two Trump administrations. One, which attempts to deal with issues that require legislation, like health care, is having trouble making progress. But the second, which can change the rules of regulation, is moving full-steam ahead. We can already see the ground being cleared for a major round of financial deregulation.
There are three important signs of intent when it comes to finance. First, the top people on economic policy in the White House and at Treasury have all worked on Wall Street — and mostly at one big bank, Goldman Sachs. Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs president, is chairman of Trump’s National Economic Council, and he has brought in a team that apparently is running the show in terms of policy. Cohn has made his intentions clear: He wants to rollback regulation.
Last month, the Federal Reserve announced that 31 out of 33 U.S. banks had passed its latest “stress test,” designed to ensure that the largest financial institutions have enough capital to withstand a severe economic shock.
Passing the test amounts to being given a clean bill of health by the Fed. So are taxpayers – who were on the hook for the initial US$700 billion TARP bill to bail out the banks in 2008 – now safe?
Last week, Turkey’s central bank surprised investors by raising a key interest rate to 10 percent from 4.5 percent. It was a bold move to rein in inflation and calm the markets. But Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been vocal in blaming the “interest-rate lobby” — a supposed conspiracy of foreign bankers, and some economists and journalists — for volatility in stock prices and a steep decline in the lira.
Turkey is far from the only country to blame foreigners for recent market turmoil. Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, recently complained of a “psychological war from abroad.” The governor of the Central Bank of Brazil, Alexandre Antônio Tombini, describes rising interest rates in rich countries as a “vacuum cleaner” that indiscriminately sucks capital out of emerging markets.