January 11, 2019 / 7:20 PM / 2 months ago

Fed's Powell lightened tense 2013 'taper' meetings with humor

(Reuters) - Jerome Powell argued forcefully to end the Federal Reserve’s bond-buying program in his early days at the central bank in 2013, leavening the often tense discussions with humor and a comparison of then-Fed chief Ben Bernanke to U.S. basketball star LeBron James.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell speaks at the American Economic Association/Allied Social Science Association (ASSA) 2019 meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Christopher Aluka Berry

The transcripts of the eight policy meetings held that year were released on Friday, nearly a year after Powell, a Wall Street veteran and lawyer by training, succeeded Janet Yellen as Fed chief.

Here are some of Powell’s more colorful turns of phrase from the meetings in which policymakers weighed whether to “taper” the massive bond-purchase program that was begun in response to the 2007-2009 financial crisis and recession.

MARCH 19-20 MEETING

“As far as the press conference is concerned, I do think it is important to begin to adjust market expectations. I realize that is a delicate thing, and my level of risk aversion is such that ... about 15 years ago I walked into the doctor’s office wearing my surgical gown and was handed a piece of paper. The doctor read it to me and asked me to sign that I understood that I might die at what I felt was a very elective thing. I handed it back to him unsigned, handed him my gown, walked out, and went back to work ... That’s why I’m here today.”

JUNE 18-19 MEETING

“Going forward today, much rests on the shoulders of the Great Communicator (Bernanke). It’s appropriate to give LeBron the ball at the end of the game, but as he goes into the game, I will go ahead and offer some thoughts on what I would like to see in the press conference.”

“We find ourselves in a situation here where we’re on the roof, and there is no risk-free path. We’ve got to jump. The only question is, to which roof are we going to jump, across which alley? So there is no risk-free path. This is the best path, and I’m happy that we’ve landed on it. I would hope going forward - I’m not a big fan of roof jumping - we can arrange our lives so that we don’t face the choice that we do now.”

SEPT. 17-18 MEETING

“Market expectations don’t tell us whether it’s (the taper is) right or wrong; they tell us about our communications and about likely market reaction. My point is, I think this (not tapering) will be a significant dovish surprise. And in the short term, that’s likely to feel good in the market, like a warm bath. Depending on the rest of the message, financial conditions would be likely to loosen a bit further. My concern is more that as September turns to October and November and December, that warm bath may get cold and clammy.”

(GRAPHIC: Federal Reserve bond holdings - tmsnrt.rs/2H3yDnl)

Compiled by Trevor Hunnicutt; Reporting by Ann Saphir, Howard Schneider, Jonathan Spicer and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Paul Simao

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