Federal Reserve

Fed nominee Powell: Financial system 'quite strong,' backs 'tailoring' regulations to ease up on small banks

Key Points
  • At his Senate confirmation hearing for Fed chairman, Jerome Powell says he favors "tailoring" regulations to alleviate the burden on smaller banks.
  • He also says he favors the new regulatory environment even though changes need to be made.
Fed nominee Powell backs 'tailoring' regulations to ease up on small banks

Jerome Powell, picked by President Donald Trump to lead the Federal Reserve, said Tuesday he favors "tailoring" regulations to alleviate the burden on smaller banks.

Speaking before the Senate Banking Committee during his confirmation hearing, Powell mentioned several areas he'd like to see addressed when it comes to the rules that banks operate under in the postfinancial crisis atmosphere.

The hearing featured a number of exchanges were Powell was pressed on his regulatory views, while other senators unsuccessfully sought to get him to comment on the looming tax reform bill in Congress.

"Tailoring of regulations is one of our most fundamental responsibilities," he said under questioning. "We want regulations to be the most intense, the most stringent for the very largest, most complex institutions and want it to decrease in intensity and stringency as we move down through the regional banks and the community banks. This is something we strive to achieve. We're taking a fresh look at that now."

Powell mentioned the so-called Volcker Rule, which restricts banks from trading for their own accounts, as well as other activities involving hedge funds and private equity. Powell again said the rule should be tougher for bigger banks but less so for smaller institutions, specifically supporting a bill that sets the threshold for restrictions at $10 billion of assets.

Overall, he said he favors the new regulatory environment even though changes need to be made.

"The things that we've done, higher capital, higher liquidity, stress testing, resolution, I think those are important pillars of reform. We can make them more transparent, more efficient and that sort of thing," Powell added. "Generally speaking ... I think the financial system is quite strong."

Trump nominated Powell to take over as Fed chairman when Janet Yellen's term expires in February.

Jerome Powell, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve nominee for U.S. President Donald Trump, waits to begin a Senate Banking Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

During his time as a Fed governor, Powell has consistently voted with the majority. The U.S. central bank is in the process of gradually removing the accommodative monetary policy it put in place during the financial crisis.

Democrats grilled Powell on the safety of Wall Street banks that helped cause the financial crisis and what his plans are for keeping them from posing too-big-to-fail threats again.

"Of all the rules that the Fed has issued during your time there ... you don't think a single one should be made tougher?" asked Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

"Honestly, senator, I think they've been tough enough," Powell said.

On other issues, Powell said the Fed will continue reducing its $4.5 trillion balance sheet in a process that will take three or four years and leave the portfolio of mostly Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities at $2.5 trillion to $3 trillion.

The balance sheet expansion came as the Fed sought to stem the damage from the financial crisis, the worst of its kind since the Great Depression. While the Fed in 2016 ended the bond-buying program that ballooned the balance sheet, Powell pledged aggressive action should the economy face a significant downturn during his term.

Also on monetary policy, Powell said the case is building for a December rate hike — already fully priced in by the market — but he would not fully commit.

He also said he would strive to keep the Fed free of political pressure.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, compared Trump's protracted process for selecting the nominee to "an episode of 'The Apprentice,'" a reference to the NBC reality show the president once hosted.

"I think it's good for all supervisory regulatory agencies to operate doing the best that they can with their mandates and not to look at the politics of things," Powell said.

Brown repeatedly tried to push Powell into commenting on the tax reform bill that Republicans are pushing through Congress, but the nominee refused each time, saying it is not the Fed's job to gauge the measure's specific economic impact.

Disclosure: NBC and CNBC are owned by Comcast's NBCUniversal unit.