WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will nominate Fed number two Janet Yellen on Wednesday to run the world's most influential central bank, providing some relief to markets that would expect her to tread carefully in winding down economic stimulus.
The nomination will put Yellen on course to be the first woman to lead the institution in its 100-year history. The advocate for aggressive action to stimulate U.S. economic growth through low interest rates and large-scale bond purchases would replace Ben Bernanke, whose second term as Fed chairman expires on January 31.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, which is expected to endorse her, she would provide continuity with the policies the Fed has established under Bernanke. Analysts say she would move cautiously in reining in policies in place to shore up the world's largest economy.
Expectations that the Fed might start to taper its stimulus program have roiled financial markets since May and the central bank shocked investors in September by maintaining its cash injections of $85 billion a month in full.
"Thank God Yellen will be nominated under the current circumstances. You don't want a change at the central bank right now," said Dan Fuss, a portfolio manager at Loomis Sayles in Boston. "This Yellen news is one uncertainty lifted from already nervous markets."
Her nomination would come during a political stalemate in Washington that has closed the U.S. government and threatened a U.S. default if lawmakers fail to raise the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling by an October 17 deadline.
U.S. stock index futures rose and the dollar slipped on the news of Yellen's pending nomination. The debt standoff is fueling expectations the Fed may delay any plans to reduce its stimulus for now.
If confirmed, she would join the Fed's honor roll along with such household names as Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan, predecessors as head of an institution that can influence the course of the world economy.
"I believe she'll be confirmed by a wide margin," said Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York.
Described as a "good egg" by fellow Fed policymaker Richard Fisher and a "very able person" by Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, her most immediate challenge may be to determine when the Fed should scale back its bond buying.
After September's surprise decision against tapering, many economists now think the Fed will not move until Bernanke has left office.
Obama turned to Yellen, 67, after his former economic adviser Lawrence Summers withdrew from consideration in the face of fierce opposition from within the president's own Democratic Party, raising questions about his chances of congressional confirmation. The contest between Summers and Yellen played out all summer in a public way not usually associated with the selection of the top U.S. central banker.
Obama is scheduled to announce his nomination at the White House at 3 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT), a White House official said on Tuesday. Bernanke is expected to attend.
Yellen has enjoyed strong support from Democrats. In an unusual move, 20 Senate Democrats signed a letter earlier this year pressing Obama to turn to the former professor from the University of California at Berkeley.
Her Republican backing is much softer. Many Republicans worry Fed policy of holding overnight interest rates at zero and buying bonds aggressively to drive other borrowing costs lower could lead to asset bubbles and an unwanted pickup in inflation.
"I voted against Vice Chairman Yellen's original nomination to the Fed in 2010 because of her dovish views on monetary policy," Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said in a statement. "We will closely examine her record since that time, but I am not aware of anything that demonstrates her views have changed."
Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, another Republican, said he has concerns about her "proclivity to print money" and her record as a bank regulator.
Still, Yellen is expected to garner enough support to secure the 60 votes needed to overcome any procedural hurdles in the 100-seat Senate. Democrats control the chamber 54-46.
A respected economist whose research has taken her deep into theories of monetary policy, Yellen has earned a reputation as one of the Fed officials most worried about unemployment and least concerned about inflation.
"With employment so far from its maximum level and with inflation running below the committee's 2 percent objective, I believe it's appropriate for progress in the labor market to take center stage in the conduct of monetary policy," she said in March.
Yellen studied economics at Yale University and taught at Berkeley for more than a decade before her first stint as a Fed board governor from 1994 to 1997, a post she left to head President Bill Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers.
She later served as president of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank, where her first-hand view of the overheated real estate market helped her see the dangers of the housing bubble earlier than many of her colleagues.
As Fed chair, Yellen would arguably be the most powerful woman in the world.
She has been central to moving the Fed toward more clarity and precision in its communications, an openness which she sees as the key to an effective monetary policy.
Yellen led a panel of officials who rewrote the Fed's rules on communications and helped convince her colleagues to adopt an explicit inflation target for the first time last year.
Her selection bolsters the credibility of promises the Fed has made about the future course of monetary policy that have been a hallmark of its approach ever since it dropped interest rates to zero in 2008.
Specifically, she could be expected to abide by, if not strengthen, the Fed's stated commitment to keep rates steady at least until the U.S. jobless rate hits 6.5 percent, as long as inflation does not threaten to pierce 2.5 percent. The nation's jobless rate stood at 7.3 percent in August.
Yellen, who has long argued that the Fed should tolerate slightly higher inflation if that is the cost of fighting high unemployment, has never dissented on a Fed policy decision.
But she also has not shied away from advocating rate rises if she feels the situation calls for it. In 1996, after then-Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan had repeatedly put off raising rates, she and a colleague went to him to argue that the central bank was at risk of courting inflation.
Once again, the central bank is facing criticism from some quarters that it is risking inflation. Its controversial bond purchases have put the Fed on track to buy some $3 trillion in mortgage and Treasury debt.
The easy money was aimed at digging the U.S. labor market out of the deep hole caused by the 2007-2009 recession.
While it pushed U.S. borrowing costs to record lows and sent U.S. stocks to record highs, the loose policy also fueled resentment in some emerging markets, who had to contend with a flood of hot money as investors sought higher returns.
Now, the flood gates are reversing.
The mere mention by Bernanke in May that the Fed could soon begin to ease up on its monthly purchases sent global financial markets reeling and U.S. borrowing costs sharply higher. Currencies and equities in many emerging markets plunged - underscoring the delicate task Yellen would face.
Despite the Fed's aggressive efforts to prop up the economy, growth has been lackluster and the labor market is still sickly.
(Additional reporting by Pedro Nicolaci da Costa, Richard Cowan, and Roberta Rampton in Washington; Ann Saphir in San Francisco; Editing by Tim Dobbyn and Neil Fullick)
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Myth: The Fed actually prints money.
<a href="http://www.foxbusiness.com/industries/2012/08/17/chance-fed-printing-more-money-jumps-to-60/">People commonly say</a> that the Fed itself prints money. It's true that the Fed is in charge of the money supply. But technically, <a href="http://www.newyorkfed.org/aboutthefed/fedpoint/fed01.html">the Treasury Department prints money on the Fed's behalf</a>. Asking the Treasury Department to print cash isn't even necessary for the Fed <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/21/federal-reserve-profit-2011_n_1369354.html">to buy securities</a>.
Myth: The Federal Reserve is spending money wastefully.
Both CNN anchor <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/31/cnn-erin-burnett-federal-reserve-stimulus_n_1848210.html" target="_hplink">Erin Burnett</a> and Republican vice presidential nominee <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2012/09/07/813011/paul-ryan-jobs-qe/" target="_hplink">Paul Ryan</a> have compared the Federal Reserve's quantitative easing to government spending. But <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/21/federal-reserve-profit-2011_n_1369354.html">the Federal Reserve actually has created new money</a> by expanding its balance sheet. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/21/federal-reserve-profit-2011_n_1369354.html">The Fed earned a $77.4 billion profit</a> last year, most of which it gave to the U.S. government.
Myth: The Fed is causing hyperinflation.
<a href="http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/15/inflation-predictions/" target="_hplink">Some</a> <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/niall-ferguson-has-been-wrong-on-economics-2012-8" target="_hplink">conservatives</a> <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/ron-paul-is-putting-on-a-great-show-right-now-in-front-of-bernanke-2012-2">have claimed</a> that the Federal Reserve is causing hyperinflation. But inflation is actually at <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/18/sunday-review/the-facts-on-the-fed.html" target="_hplink">historically low levels</a>, and there is no sign that is going to change. <a href="http://www.bls.gov/news.release/cpi.nr0.htm" target="_hplink">Core prices have risen</a> just 1.4 percent over the past year, according to the Labor Department -- below the Federal Reserve's <a href="http://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/speech/bernanke20120831a.htm" target="_hplink">target of 2 percent</a>.
Myth: The amount of cash available has grown tremendously.
<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/10/business/economy/10fed.html?_r=1">Some Federal Reserve critics claim</a> that the Fed has devalued the U.S. dollar through a massive expansion of the amount of currency in circulation. But not only is inflation low; <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/the-animated-gif-of-boy-throwing-money-out-of-the-window-is-not-a-metaphor-for-qe-2012-9">currency growth also has not really changed</a> since the Fed started its stimulus measures, as noted by Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal.
Myth: The gold standard would make prices more stable.
<a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/ron-paul-is-putting-on-a-great-show-right-now-in-front-of-bernanke-2012-2">Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) has claimed</a> that bringing back the gold standard would make prices more stable. But prices actually were much less stable under the gold standard than they are today, as <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/08/why-the-gold-standard-is-the-worlds-worst-economic-idea-in-2-charts/261552/"><em>The Atlantic's</em> Matthew O'Brien</a> and <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/why-conservatives-like-the-gold-standard-2012-8">Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal</a> have noted.
Myth: The Fed is causing food and gas prices to rise.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/08/erin-burnett-federal-reserve_n_1866971.html">CNN anchor Erin Burnett claimed in September</a> that the Federal Reserve's stimulus measures have caused food and gas prices to rise. But many economists believe global supply and demand issues are influencing these prices, not Fed policy. And <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/08/erin-burnett-federal-reserve_n_1866971.html">there actually is no correlation between the Fed's stimulus measures and commodity prices</a>, according to some economists Paul Krugman and Dean Baker.
Myth: Quantitative easing has not helped job growth.
<a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelpento/2012/05/01/why-higher-inflation-destroys-jobs/">Some Federal Reserve critics</a> claim that the Fed's stimulus measures have destroyed jobs. But <a href="http://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/speech/bernanke20120831a.htm">the Fed's quantitative easing measures actually have saved or created more than 2 million jobs</a>, according to the Fed's economists. In addition, JPMorgan Chase chief economist Michael Feroli told Bloomberg last month that <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-09-10/bernanke-proves-like-no-other-fed-chairman-on-joblessness.html" target="_hplink">QE3 will provide at least a small benefit</a> to the economy.
Myth: Tying the U.S. dollar to commodities would solve everything.
<a href="http://articles.nydailynews.com/2012-08-16/news/33236684_1_monetary-policy-inflation-currency-debasement">Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has proposed</a> tying the value of the U.S. dollar to a basket of commodities, in an aim to promote price stability. But <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/08/forget-paul-ryans-budget-his-scariest-idea-is-about-the-federal-reserve/261066/">this actually would cause prices to be much less stable</a> and hurt the U.S. economy overall, as <em>The Atlantic's</em> Matthew O'Brien has noted.
Myth: Ending the Fed would make the financial system more stable.
<a href="http://www.amazon.com/End-Fed-Ron-Paul/dp/B004IEA4DM">Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) claims</a> that ending the Federal Reserve and returning to the gold standard would make the U.S. financial system more stable. But <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/video/should-the-u-s-return-to-the-gold-standard-wsDVrOKATTqyTaG5yBY1kQ.html">the U.S. economy actually experienced longer and more frequent financial crises and recessions</a> during the 19th century, when the U.S. was using the gold standard and did not have the Fed.
Myth: The Fed can't do anything else to help job growth.
<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/31/business/economy/whats-with-all-the-bernanke-bashing.html">Many</a> <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/economics-blog/2012/jun/27/federal-reserve-runs-out-of-options">commentators</a> have claimed that there simply aren't any tools left in the Fed's toolkit to be able to help job growth. But <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-07-09/fed-harms-itself-by-missing-goals-stevenson-and-wolfers.html">some economists</a> <a href="http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2011/08/28/the_i_word/">have noted</a> that the Fed could target a higher inflation rate to stimulate job growth. <a href="http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/25/bernanke-on-what-the-fed-can-do/">The Fed, however, has ruled this option out</a> -- for now.
Myth: The Fed can't easily unwind all of this stimulus.
<a href="http://www.salon.com/2012/09/01/ben_bernanke_speaks//">Some commentators</a> <a href="http://seekingalpha.com/article/161203-fed-unwinding-won-t-be-easy">have claimed</a> that the Fed can't safely unwind its quantitative easing measures. But the Fed's program involves buying some of the most heavily traded and owned securities in the world, Treasury and government-backed mortgage bonds. The Fed will likely have little problem finding buyers for these securities, all of which will eventually expire even if the Fed does nothing. But <a href="http://economistsview.typepad.com/timduy/2012/09/plosser-opposes-the-1933-37-expansion.html">economists have noted</a> that once the Fed decides it's time to unwind the stimulus, the economy will have improved to such an extent that this won't be an issue.