Guggenheim CIO Scott Minerd: Jerome Powell no longer favorite for Fed chair job

·3-min read

Guggenheim Partners Chief Investment Officer Scott Minerd says Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell may have blown his chances at renomination amid concerns over trading activity carried out by several senior Fed officials.

"[Treasury Secretary] Janet Yellen would like to see him [Jay Powell] reappointed. I doubt that is likely now in the wake of what has happened and the issues with Elizabeth Warren," Minerd said on Yahoo Finance Live. "That probably means Lael Brainard will be front and center, and Lael Brainard is a dove."

Over the last month, the central bank has been engulfed by a scandal centered on big financial bets made by regional Fed Presidents Robert Kaplan and Eric Rosengren. Both stepped down from their roles after reporting revealed bets on real estate and individual stocks. 

[Read: A timeline of the Federal Reserve's trading scandal]

Powell has launched a review of the Fed's ethics rules around trading, but the Fed chairman has already been lambasted by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren for failing to prevent the trades. Warren has said she would oppose Powell's nomination if the White House chooses to renominate him.

Brainard now the favorite?

Minerd, a longtime Fed watcher, added that current Fed Governor Lael Brainard is now the favorite for Fed chair. Brainard is largely seen as a more progressive pick than Powell, and may be more aggressive on matters like climate change within the Fed's work on monetary policy and bank regulation.

"I think given the pressures from the populist side of the party, [Biden] will have to basically appoint people who are in favor of easy money [policy]," Minerd said.

The White House could potentially fill up to four roles on the Fed Board; there is already one vacancy and up to two governors whose term expirations allow them to be replaced (Richard Clarida and Randal Quarles). Clarida, whose term ends in January, has also caught attention for rotating between $1 million and $5 million out of a Pimco bond fund and into two stock funds right before the Fed started taking emergency actions in 2020.

One wrinkle to the ethics scandal is that Brainard is the head of the "Federal Reserve Bank Affairs" committee that could have addressed trading activity carried out by reserve bank presidents.

Betting website PredictIt still shows Powell leading over Brainard, although his lead ticked down slightly after The American Prospect highlighted a financial disclosure showing Powell selling shares from a Total Stock Market Index Fund in October 2020. 

Unlike the trades done by Rosengren and Kaplan, the fund is a broad market index (with exposure to all U.S. equities). 

Still, the interest in financial transactions carried out by those engineering economic policy raises questions about how stringent the central bank's restrictions should be. 

Powell told lawmakers earlier in the month that he would “rise to this moment” to address any reputational damage to the central bank’s independence.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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