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--Trump's Fed Chair Pick An Open-Minded Consensus Builder, Williams Tells MNI
By Jean Yung
     SAN FRANCISCO (MNI) - Jerome Powell, President Donald Trump's pick to lead
the Federal Reserve, is an action-oriented consensus builder in the mold of his
predecessors Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen, according to San Francisco Fed
President John Williams, who has gotten to know him well over five years of
service together on the Federal Open Market Committee. 
     The fact that the former lawyer and banker lacks an advanced economics
degree -- which would make him the first Fed chief without one in 30 years --
doesn't bother Williams, one of the most prominent economists on the FOMC. He
said Powell is intellectually driven, non-ideological and has received a
graduate-level education in economics as a policymaker.  
     "He is very open-minded. He's one of these people who asks lots of really
good questions and wants to understand very much the differing viewpoints,"
Williams told MNI in an exclusive interview Friday. 
     "I think he has a nice combination of both strong consensus-building skills
and also will make sure that we're moving ahead in the right direction." 
     The two men have toured a number of Asian economies together, part of
annual weeklong trips traditionally undertaken by a Fed governor and the
president of the San Francisco Fed. Williams said he has come to expect Powell
to be well versed on cutting edge research and armed with thoughtful questions. 
     "Invariably when I'm with Jay and traveling in a plane or a bus or sitting
at the airport, he'll start asking questions. 'So, John, what do you think about
this new paper that just came out?'" Williams said. 
     "He's very intellectually curious about lots of issues, issues like how
does globalization and automation and technological change affect employment and
wages around the world. These are the kind of issues economists like to think
about." 
     That approach will serve him well as Fed chair, Williams said. An effective
leader of the 19 FOMC policymakers -- when fully staffed -- has to make sure the
diverse set of viewpoints are not only heard but distilled into a key policy
action that is the best possible decision for the time, Williams said. 
     "Watching Chairman Bernanke and then Chair Yellen and how they did that has
provided very good role models," he said. "I view Jay Powell as very much the
same kind of person, in the sense that he wants to hear all the viewpoints and
he wants that exchange."
     "In my experience watching and working with him, he'll always want to come
to the right decision and move forward on that," Williams said.  
     Asked if one concern some analysts have expressed -- that Powell has yet to
prove himself in a crisis -- is a valid one, Williams cautioned that the past
six years have had their share of ups and downs. 
     Difficulties in the euro zone, the halting pace of economic recovery in the
United States, the Fed's rollout of QE3 and forward guidance and the unwinding
of the balance sheet this year have been thorny challenges, Williams said.  
     "He's been there throughout that period," Williams said. "So he does have
that experience of being in the trenches." 
     And on that note, Williams called out current Fed Chair Janet Yellen as "a
fantastic leader through a very difficult time."  
     "I think it's been a little bit underappreciated the challenges the Fed has
faced in monetary policy the last several years," he said. 
     "The fact that we've started the normalization process for the balance
sheet and that's gone so smoothly, with the economy growing so strongly and
things going as well as they have is a testament to her leadership." 
--MNI Washington Bureau; +1 202-371-2121; email: jean.yung@marketnews.com
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