Fed's newest policymaker seen siding with Bernanke

Reuters

By Ann Saphir

CHICAGO (Reuters) - John Williams, the Federal Reserve's newest policymaker, is unlikely to call for a quick exit from Fed monetary stimulus despite his long association with sharp critics of super-easy policy, economists who know him said.

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The new San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank chief is described by colleagues as having "common sense" and a persuasive logic. He studied under and collaborated extensively with Stanford University professor John Taylor, a vocal critic of the Fed's current round of quantitative easing.

A second frequent co-author, European Central Bank Governing Council member Athanasios Orphanides, is known for his broad denunciations of central bank "activism" and his recent focus on the threat of inflation.

Williams' recent research, including a paper earlier this year which credits the central bank's asset-buying with boosting jobs and keeping the economy from falling into deflation, suggests he will back that policy.

On Wednesday Williams, appointed to his current post on March 1, gives his first policy speech as San Francisco Fed president.

"He has been moving a little bit more toward the easy-money position," said Bennett McCallum, an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business.

Michael Woodford, an economics professor at Columbia University, agreed. "I do not expect his policy views to be as hawkish as those of Taylor or Orphanides," he said.

Like several other recently appointed regional Fed bank presidents, including Chicago Fed's Charles Evans, St. Louis Fed's James Bullard, and Boston Fed's Eric Rosengren, Williams is a Fed insider.

Before taking up his current post, he was research director under former San Francisco Fed President Janet Yellen, seen as one of the U.S. central bank's most dovish members. Yellen is now vice chair of the Fed's Washington-based board.

Earlier, he had been a senior economist at the board.

The addition of Williams to the Fed's policy-setting committee, which next meets June 21-22, will bolster the consensus for easy policy at the U.S. central bank, even as other world central banks raise rates or move closer to doing so.

Among current Fed policymakers, Gertler said, Williams most closely resembles Evans.

"They both sort of strike me as taking a very common-sense approach to issues," Gertler said. Evans, one of the Fed's most dovish top officials, is known for his analytical talents and willingness to argue for unpopular but to his mind potentially useful policies, like allowing inflation to rise above its ideal level for temporary periods.

In a 2009 paper, Williams argued that a central bank may want to target inflation of as high as 4 percent -- twice the informal 2 percent target the Fed uses -- if it finds its policies constrained by the impossibility of lowering rates below zero and more economic stimulus is needed.

But economists caution against reading too much into that stance, especially since Williams has publicly argued the Fed's recent asset-buying has been effective.

"He's not as dovish as Yellen ... but I would suspect he's going to lean toward the dovish side," said Michael Feroli, chief economist at JPMorgan & Chase. "I suspect he'll probably vote with the committee, and I would be surprised if he's a vocal critic the way some regional Fed presidents are."

Williams will have his first vote on the policy-setting panel next year.

(Reporting by Ann Saphir, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)