Jerome Hayden "Jay" Powell (born February 4, 1953) is the 16th Chair of the Federal Reserve, serving in that office since February 2018. He was nominated to the Board of the Federal Reserve in 2012 by President Barack Obama, and subsequently nominated to the Chair of the Fed by President Donald Trump, and confirmed in each case by the United States Senate. During his Chairmanship, he was both criticized and praised by Trump.
Official portrait, 2012
|16th Chair of the Federal Reserve|
|Assumed office |
February 5, 2018
|Preceded by||Janet Yellen|
|Member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors|
|Assumed office |
May 25, 2012
|Nominated by||Barack Obama|
|Preceded by||Frederic Mishkin|
|Under Secretary of the Treasury for Domestic Finance|
|President||George H. W. Bush|
|Preceded by||Robert R. Glauber|
|Succeeded by||Frank N. Newman|
Jerome Hayden Powell
February 4, 1953
Washington, D.C., U.S.
|Education||Princeton University (BA)|
Georgetown University (JD)
|Net worth||$55 million|
As Fed Chair, rather than having strong monetary views, Powell was seen as a consensus-builder and problem-solver, who kept close contact with Capitol Hill. Powell won bipartisan praise for the actions taken by the Fed in early 2020 to combat the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic, but the resulting disconnect between asset prices and the economy was controversial, both for the financial risks of simultaneous large bubbles in several major asset classes, and the historic widening of wealth inequality. So dominant, and distorting, were Powell's actions in 2020 on asset prices – despite a pandemic, divided Congress, weak economy, low buybacks, and trade wars – that by late 2020, Bloomberg called Powell, "Wall Street's Head of State", and that his actions were "exuberantly asymmetric". Time said the scale and manner of Powell's actions in 2020 "is changing the Fed forever", and shared concerns he had conditioned Wall Street to unsustainable levels of monetary stimulus to artificially sustain high asset prices, likened to a continual Greenspan put, and also termed The Everything Bubble.
Powell earned a degree in politics from Princeton University in 1975 and a Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law Center in 1979. He moved to investment banking in 1984, and worked for several financial institutions, including as a partner of The Carlyle Group. In 1992, Powell briefly served as Under Secretary of the Treasury for Domestic Finance under President George H. W. Bush. He was a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center from 2010 to 2012.
Powell was born on February 4, 1953, in Washington, D.C., as one of six children to Patricia (née Hayden; 1926–2010) and Jerome Powell (1921–2007), a lawyer in private practice. His maternal grandfather, James J. Hayden, was Dean of the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University of America and later a lecturer at Georgetown Law School. He has five siblings: Susan, Matthew, Tia, Libby, and Monica.
In 1972, Powell graduated from Georgetown Preparatory School, a Jesuit university-preparatory school. He received a Bachelor of Arts in politics from Princeton University in 1975, where his senior thesis was titled "South Africa: Forces for Change." In 1975–76, he spent a year as a legislative assistant to Pennsylvania Senator Richard Schweiker (R).
Legal and investment banking (1979–2012)Edit
In 1979, Powell moved to New York City and became a clerk to Judge Ellsworth Van Graafeiland of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. From 1981 to 1983, Powell was a lawyer with Davis Polk & Wardwell, and from 1983 to 1984, he worked at the firm of Werbel & McMillen.
From 1984 to 1990, Powell worked at Dillon, Read & Co., an investment bank, where he concentrated on financing, merchant banking, and mergers and acquisitions, rising to the position of vice president.
Between 1990 and 1993, Powell worked in the United States Department of the Treasury, at which time Nicholas F. Brady, the former chairman of Dillon, Read & Co., was the United States Secretary of the Treasury. In 1992, Powell became the Under Secretary of the Treasury for Domestic Finance after being nominated by George H. W. Bush. During his stint at the Treasury, Powell oversaw the investigation and sanctioning of Salomon Brothers after one of its traders submitted false bids for a United States Treasury security. Powell was also involved in the negotiations that made Warren Buffett the chairman of Salomon.
In 1993, Powell began working as a managing director for Bankers Trust, but he quit in 1995 after the bank got into trouble when several customers suffered large losses due to derivatives. He then went back to work for Dillon, Read & Co. From 1997 to 2005, Powell was a partner at The Carlyle Group, where he founded and led the Industrial Group within the Carlyle U.S. Buyout Fund. After leaving Carlyle, Powell founded Severn Capital Partners, a private investment firm focused on specialty finance and opportunistic investments in the industrial sector. In 2008, Powell became a managing partner of the Global Environment Fund, a private equity and venture capital firm that invests in sustainable energy.
Between 2010 and 2012, Powell was a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank in Washington, D.C., where he worked on getting Congress to raise the United States debt ceiling during the United States debt-ceiling crisis of 2011. Powell presented the implications to the economy and interest rates of a default or a delay in raising the debt ceiling. He worked for a salary of $1 per year.
Federal Reserve Board of Governors (2012–)Edit
In December 2011, along with Jeremy C. Stein, Powell was nominated to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors by President Barack Obama. The nomination included two people to help garner bipartisan support for both nominees since Stein's nomination had previously been filibustered. Powell's nomination was the first time that a president nominated a member of the opposition party for such a position since 1988. He took office on May 25, 2012, to fill the unexpired term of Frederic Mishkin, who resigned. In January 2014, he was nominated for another term, and, in June 2014, he was confirmed by the United States Senate in a 67–24 vote for a 14-year term ending January 31, 2028.
Chair of the Federal Reserve (2018–)Edit
On 2 November 2017, President Trump nominated Powell to serve as the Chair of the Federal Reserve. On December 5 2017, the Senate Banking Committee approved Powell's nomination to be Chair in a 22–1 vote, with Senator Elizabeth Warren casting the lone dissenting vote. His nomination was confirmed by the Senate on January 23, 2018 by an 84–13 vote. Powell assumed office as Chair on February 5, 2018.
In Q1 2018, one of Powells first actions was to continue to raise US interest rates, as a response to the increasing strength of the US economy. Trump subsequently complained about the Fed raising interest rates, and in 2018 said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that he "maybe" regretted nominating Powell, complaining that the Fed chairman "almost looks like he's happy raising interest rates." Powell has described the Fed's role as nonpartisan and apolitical.
In 2018, for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis, Powell started to reduce the size of the Fed's balance in a process called quantitative tightening, with a plan to reduce it from USD 4.5 trillion to USD 2.5–3 trillion within 4 years. Powell described the monthly reduction of USD 50 billion as being "on automatic pilot", however, approaching the end of 2018, global markets entered a steep decline; the reliance of markets on continuous central bank asset purchases to sustain asset prices had not been appreciated, and Powell was forced to abandon quantitative tightening in Q1 2019, leading to a recovery in global asset prices.
Powell's actions drew negative comments from Trump who said in June 2019: "Here's a guy, nobody ever heard of him before. And now, I made him and he wants to show how tough he is ... He's not doing a good job." Trump called the interest rate increase and the reduction of bond-buying quantitative easing "insane".  In July 2019, Powell said he would not stand down if President Trump attempted to remove him from his current post, and that it is the Congress which has the authority for oversight of the central bank, and that the board chair can only be removed for good cause. Trump's attacks escalated. and in August 2019, he called Powell an "enemy", "equivalent to or worse than" China's leader Xi Jinping, and that Powell had "an horrendous lack of vision", and that "I disagree with him entirely".
In Q3 2019, as asset prices began to weaken again, Powell announced the Fed would return to expanding its balance sheet, which led to a global rally in assets in Q4 2020 pushing forward earnings multiples on US equity indices to their highest level since 1999–2000. Powell was adamant that the Fed's actions were not a return to quantitative easing, but some dubbed the actions as being QE4. Powell's Q4 2019 balance sheet expansion utilized an indirect form of quantitative easing, which printed new funds (as with direct quantitative easing), but which were then largely lent to US investment banks who made the asset purchases (as opposed to the Fed purchasing assets); this was a tool associated with Alan Greenspan to stimulate asset prices (also known as a "repo trade" as part of the "Greenspan put").
In Q1 2020, Powell launched an unprecedented series of actions to counter the financial market impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which included a dramatic expansion of the Fed's balance sheet and introduction of new tools, including the direct purchase of corporate bonds, and direct lending programs. At various times, Powell emphasized monetary policy alone would not be sufficient, and that Congress would need to provide an equivalent fiscal policy response; otherwise, the scale of intervention by the Fed could widen income inequality. Powell's actions earned him bi-partisan praise, including from Trump, who told Fox News that he was "very happy with his performance" and that "over the last period of six months, he's really stepped up to the plate".
During Q2 and Q3 2020, Powell kept using tools to further amplify asset prices, despite concerns US asset prices were in a bubble, and that Powell's actions had driven wealth inequality to historic levels. Powell defended his actions saying: "I don't know that the connection between asset purchases and financial stability is a particularly tight one", and that he wasn't worried that the Fed's actions were creating asset bubbles. In July 2020, CNBC host Jim Cramer said, "I'm sick and tired of hearing that we're in a bubble, that Powell's overinflating the price of stocks by printing money to keep the economy moving". The Washington Post called the Fed "addicted to propping up markets, even when there is no need". In August 2020, investors Leon Cooperman and Seth Klarman warned of a dangerous "speculative bubble", with market psychology "unhinged from market fundamentals". In October, David Einhorn called the peak of a second dot-com bubble.
In November 2020, as markets continued to rise into bubble valuations despite the lack of further fiscal stimulus from a divided Congress, trade wars with China, and a weak economy, Bloomberg called Powell "Wall Street's Head of State", as a reflection of how dominant Powell's actions were on markets, and how profitable Powell's "repo trades" had been for Wall Street banks, who were having one of their strongest years in history. On 19 November 2020, Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin wrote to Powell to request the return of USD 455 billion in unused crisis funds, to which Powell replied that the Fed would prefer to keep the funds. Described as an "unprecedented spat" between the two individuals, Mnuchin replied that credit spreads were at record lows (the Goldman Sachs US Financial Conditions Index (GSFCI) had reached its lowest level in history dropping below 98, an indication of an extreme in monetary looseness), and thus crisis funds were no longer needed, to which Powell relented.
On joining the Fed, Powell was not considered a deep expert in macroeconomics or monetary policy; and rather than having strong economic views, Powell was seen as a consensus builder, and a rational fact-based problem solver, who was prepared to visit Capitol Hill frequently to communicate and listen to all views on the economy. The Bloomberg Intelligence Fed Spectrometer rated Powell as neutral in terms of monetary views (i.e., neither a hawk nor a dove). Powell was a skeptic of round 3 of quantitative easing (or QE3), initiated in 2012, although he eventually voted for it.
Powell's first year as Fed chairman saw him raise rates and attempt to reduce the Fed's balance sheet (i.e. hawkish actions); in his second year, Powell re-started expanding the Fed's balance sheet (i.e dovish actions), which led to an expansion of equity valuation multiples to levels not seen since 1999–2000. Powell's actions to combat the financial effects of the pandemic saw him more overtly embrace asset bubbles as an acceptable consequence of his actions. The simultaneous bubbles created by Powell in 2019–2020 in the bond markets, the equity markets, and laterally in the housing markets, became known as the Everything Bubble; Powell was criticised for maintaining high levels of direct and indirect quantitative easing as valuations hit levels last seen at the peaks of previous bubbles.
Powell's adoption of asset bubbles from 2019 onwards, resulted in levels of wealth inequality not seen in the United States since the 1920s. Powell's focus on asset bubbles was also attributed to the K-shaped recovery that emerged post the coronavirus pandemic, where asset bubbles protected the wealthier segments of society from the financial effects of the pandemic. Former FDIC regulator Sheila Bair said in May 2020, that "I think financial assets across the board are inflated from monetary policy. I think that the markets have become so distorted now that you don't know what's real and what's not. The stock markets and bond markets have become disconnected from the real economy", and later that overuse of tools meant the "Fed is compromising the future for millennials".
Powell's large-scale use of indirect quantitative easing (known as a "repo trade" from the era of the "Greenspan put"), via Wall Street investment banks was criticized. In Q4 2019 and Q1–Q3 2020, Powell allowed banks to borrow large sums interest-free from the Fed to buy assets, which they would then sell on to the wider market at a profit on the basis of more optimistic analyst forecasts and positive price momentum (from the buying of the Wall Street banks); a technique used in 1998–2000. In June 2020, Jim Grant called Powell Wall Street's Dr. Feelgood. In a September 2020 testimony, Powell said: "Our actions were in no way an attempt to relieve pain on Wall Street". In October 2020, the Wall Street Journal reported that 2020 would likely be one of the best trading years in Wall Street's history.
In August 2020, Bloomberg called Powell's policy "exuberantly asymmetric" (echoing Alan Greenspan's "irrational exuberance" quote from 1996), and profiled research showing that the Fed's balance sheet was strongly correlated to being used to rescue falling share prices, or boosting flagging share prices, but that it was rarely used to control extreme stock price valuations. Bloomberg noted that the "Powell Put" had become more extreme than the "Greenspan put". In a similar vein, Steven Pearlstein in the Washington Post said that Powell had "adopted a strategy that works like a one-way ratchet, providing a floor for stock and bond prices but never a ceiling", and that any attempt by Powell to abandon this strategy "will trigger a sharp sell-off by investors who have become addicted to monetary stimulus". Mohamed A. El-Erian, advised President-elect Joe Biden, to "favour people willing to restore the central bank's traditional role as a leader of financial markets and not a follower", in discussing Powell.
By November 2020, Powell's monetary policy, was so loose, that in a weakened economy with high levels of unemployment, the following metrics were recorded:
- Monetary Looseness. The Goldman Sachs US Financial Conditions Index (GSFCI), dropped below 98 for the first time in history; and
- Equities. The Price/Sales ratio of the US equities, reached a new all-time high of 2.7x, surpassing the previous peak of 2.45x in 2000 in the Dot-com bubble; and
- Housing. The US the Case-Shiller National Home Price Index, reached a new all-time high, surpassing the previous peak in 2006 in the housing bubble; and
- Bonds. The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Corporate High Yield Index (i.e. junk bonds), fell to a yield of 4.56%, below the previous record of 4.83% from June 2014.
"You can't lose in that market," he said, adding "it's like a slot machine" that always pays out. "I've not seen this in my career".
Powell "appears to largely support" the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, although he has stated that "we can do it more efficiently". In an October 2017 speech, Powell stated that higher capital and liquidity requirements and stress tests have made the financial system safer and must be preserved. However, he also stated that the Volcker Rule should be re-written to exclude smaller banks.
Housing finance reformEdit
In a July 2017 speech, Powell said that in regard to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac the status quo is "unacceptable" and that the current situation "may feel comfortable, but it is also unsustainable". He warned that "the next few years may present our last best chance" to "address the ultimate status of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac" and avoid "repeating the mistakes of the past". Powell expressed concerns that, in the current situation, the government is responsible for mortgage defaults and that lending standards were too rigid, noting that these can be solved by encouraging "ample amounts of private capital to support housing finance activities".
Powell married Elissa Leonard in 1985. They have three children and live in Chevy Chase Village, Maryland, where Elissa is chair of the board of managers of the village. In 2010, Powell was on the board of governors of Chevy Chase Club, a country club.
Based on public filings, Powell's net worth is estimated to be as little as $4.7 million and as much as $55 million. He is the wealthiest member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.
Powell has served on the boards of charitable and educational institutions including DC Prep, a public charter school, the Bendheim Center for Finance at Princeton University, and The Nature Conservancy. He was also a founder of the Center City Consortium, a group of 16 parochial schools in the poorest areas of Washington, D.C.
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The old ‘Greenspan put’ is now a Powell promise: fear not, the Fed is there for you
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