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The Bottom Line

Fed Chair Powell is doing a much better job than President Trump, even if interest rates keep rising: CNBC CFO survey

Key Points
  • Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell's handling of the economy remains much more popular with chief financial officers than President Donald Trump's, according to the fourth-quarter CNBC survey.
  • Powell's popularity among CFOs on the CNBC Global CFO Council comes even as the Fed's policy of raising rates has caused major stock market volatility in Q4.
  • CFOs expect the Fed to continue to raise rates in December and in 2019, according to the survey.

President Donald Trump's attacks on Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell aren't popular with one important polling group within the markets: chief financial officers.

Four in five North American members of CNBC's Global CFO Council support Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell's handling of the economy versus only a third who approve of Trump's handling of the economy. That's according to the latest quarterly survey of CFO Council members.

President Donald Trump (R) introduces his nominee for the chairman of the Federal Reserve Jerome Powell during a press event in the Rose Garden at the White House, November 2, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

While a large majority of the CFOs surveyed approve of the Fed chairman, and presumably of the Fed's moves this year to raise interest rates and wind down its policy of quantitative easing, council members are less sure of what the Fed will do when it meets next month and how things will go in 2019.

The CNBC Global CFO Council represents some of the largest public and private companies in the world, collectively managing nearly $5 trillion in market value across a wide variety of sectors. The survey was conducted from Nov. 13–19, 2018.

CFOs think the Fed will keep raising rates in 2019

In September only a third of CFOs thought the Central Bank would raise rates for a fourth time in 2018. That number has risen to 59.5 percent for the Fed meeting on Dec. 18 and 19. Just under 25 percent think the Fed will hold off.

Most CFOs expect the Fed's tighter policy to continue into 2019 — 45.9 percent expect two more rate hikes next year, while 40.5 percent expect three.

Increased expectations for more rate hikes come despite recent stock market volatility and a weakened stock outlook from the CFOs on the council, where a majority now expect the Dow Jones Industrial Average to fall below 23,000 — roughly another 2,000 points — before ever being able to reach another record above 27,000.

Worries from some market watchers, and Trump, have increased about the Fed harming the market and the economy if it continues to tighten. In October, Trump called the Fed the "biggest risk" to the U.S. economy. In a series of comments, he also referred to the Central Bank as "loco" and "too aggressive" and hinted that he may be regretting having nominated Powell to the Fed chairmanship.

But CFOs remain on the chairman's side of this issue, as seen in their approval of Powell's handling of the economy and their disapproval of Trump's. While Trump may see the Fed as the biggest risk to the economy, just 13.5 percent of global CFOs say central banks are the biggest risk. Thirty-five percent say U.S. trade policy is a bigger cause for concern, while 24.3 percent say consumer demand is the biggest external risk to their company.

(Note: The CNBC Global CFO Council Survey for the fourth quarter was conducted from Nov. 13–19, 2018. Thirty-seven of the 121 global members responded to the survey, including 15 North America members, 13 EMEA members and 9 APAC members).

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