So long Larry Summers! In this game of eeny meeny miny moe, it appears that Obama’s index finger will ultimately land on Janet Yellen to replace Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve. Summers was Wall Street’s choice, but he withdrew from consideration, citing potential obstacles in the Senate confirmation process. While I greeted that update favorably, Yellen isn’t high on my list either.
Before Summers stepped aside, the authors of an article on Yahoo Finance asserted why Wall Street preferred Summers even though we shouldn’t:
“Obama leans toward Summers not on the merits but because the Wall Street bankers want him. Summers is one of the boys, and the bankers know that Summers will do their bidding, at the expense of everybody else.”
The authors added that Summers advocated for financial deregulation and shot down legislation capping bankers’ bonuses—including bonuses for the AIG unit that helped trigger the banking mess.
They went on to root for Yellen, citing her exemplary academic record and history with the Federal Reserve. “Yellen correctly foresaw the risks of the 2008 financial meltdown, while Summers famously missed it. She, not Summers, has hands-on experience running the Fed.”
Summers is out of the mix now, but the “logic” behind this article made my blood boil. Just because one candidate is lousy does not mean the other is any better.
Here is Yellen’s highlight reel according to Jim Kuhnhenn at the Associated Press:
“Yellen has advocated tough regulations since her time at the San Francisco Fed. She is credited for issuing early warnings that the housing bubble and unregulated financial practices threatened the economy.
As the Fed’s vice chairwoman she has called for additional financial system safeguards.”
Hmm… here’s another way to look at Yellen’s record: since joining the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors in October 2010 and becoming a permanent voting member of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), she has never cast a dissenting vote against the monetary action recommended by Chairman Bernanke.
If the near collapse of the banking system was caused by deregulation and AIG’s toxic loans—which she spoke out against—how competent a leader is Ms. Yellen? Did anyone heed her early warnings? No; and her inability to push her peers toward preventative measures is an indictment of an ineffective executive. In the business world, saying “I told you so” could get you fired. However, like so many things government, activity is mistaken for accomplishment. An effective executive makes sure he or she is heard and gets the job done.
What about Yellen’s leadership since the crisis?
Last month Sheraz Mian broke down the 2Q earnings reports of the S&P 500 companies in Zacks Earning Trends:
“Yes, the total earnings tally reached a new quarterly record in Q2 and the rest of the aggregate metrics like growth rates and beat ratios look respectable enough. But all of that was solely due to one sector only: Finance. … Finance results have been very strong, with total earnings for the companies that have reported results up an impressive +30% on +8.5% higher revenues. … Excluding Finance, total earnings for the remainder of S&P 500 companies that have reported would be down -2.9% from the year-earlier period.
“Earnings growth was particularly strong at the large national and regional banks, with total earnings at the Major Banks industry, which includes 15 banks like J.P. Morgan and Bank of America.”
It looks like too big to fail banks are certainly succeeding. So, Yellen’s hands-on experience running the Fed has accomplished full employment in the financial sector. Perhaps that’s supposed to trickle down to the rest of us.
The Federal Reserve publishes a booklet titled, The Federal Reserve System, Purposes and Functions. It says that the Federal Reserve’s duties fall into four general areas:
- Conducting the nation’s monetary policy by influencing the monetary and credit conditions in the economy in pursuit of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates;
- Supervising and regulating banking institutions to ensure the safety and soundness of the nation’s banking and financial system and to protect the credit rights of consumers;
- Maintaining the stability of the financial system and containing systemic risk that may arise in financial markets; and
- Providing financial services to depository institutions, the US government, and foreign official institutions, including playing a major role in operating the nation’s payments system.
If any public company failed at its mission so miserably, the stockholders would throw out the entire management team. It is time for accountability.