Fed’s Powell says looming US election will not sway rate decisions

By David Lawder and Michael S. Derby

NEW YORK (Reuters) -The looming U.S. presidential election will not influence the Federal Reserve’s interest rate decisions, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said on Wednesday, adding that policymakers were “at peace” with keeping political considerations out of their decision-making process.

Powell, speaking in a news conference after the end of the U.S. central bank’s latest policy meeting, said Fed policy decisions will be guided by “what we think the right thing for the economy is,” repeating a long-held stance of ignoring politics in the central bank’s economic analysis.

“If you go down the road, where do you stop? And so we’re not on that road,” Powell said. “We’re on the road where we’re serving all the American people, and making our decisions based on the data and how those data affect the outlook and the balance of risks.

The issue of the Fed’s independence jumped back into the spotlight last week when the Wall Street Journal reported that allies of former President Donald Trump are drafting proposals that would attempt to erode the central bank’s independence and give Trump more influence over the Fed if he wins the Nov. 5 election.

Trump, who nominated Powell to be Fed chief in late 2017, unleashed withering verbal attacks on the Fed for raising rates in 2018, calling its policymakers “boneheads” and “loco” and threatening to fire or demote Powell on multiple occasions. But the controversy was not mentioned in the Fed’s 2018 meeting transcripts, which were released earlier this year.

Powell said that Fed meeting transcripts also show no evidence that officials have allowed the pending election to affect their policy choices.

When it comes to the election, “we’re at peace over it, we know that we’ll do what we think is the right thing, when we think it’s the right thing” Powell told reporters.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who preceded Powell as Fed chief, also put in a plug for the central bank’s independence on Wednesday, releasing excerpts of a speech she will deliver on Friday in the battleground state of Arizona in which she warns that the erosion of democratic institutions would hurt U.S. economic growth and prosperity.

“As Chair of the Federal Reserve, I insisted on the Fed’s independence and transparency because I believe it matters for financial stability and economic growth,” Yellen will say, according to the excerpts. “Recent research has been consistent with my belief: It has shown that greater central bank independence is associated with greater price stability, which contributes significantly to long-term growth.”

(Reporting by Michael S. Derby; Editing by Paul Simao)