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Trump Renews Attack on Powell, Says He Can Move Fed Chairman Into Different Role

Donald Trump says he won't fire Fed Chairman Powell, but has the 'right' to move him into a different role at the central bank.

President Donald Trump launched another attack on Jerome Powell Saturday, suggesting he could remove the Federal Reserve Chairman and place him in another role within the central bank.

Speaking to reporters at the White House as part of a briefing on efforts to combat the coronavirus outbreak, Trump once again expressed his displeasure with the Fed and its Chairman, accusing them of "following, not leading" in terms of offering monetary support for the world's biggest economy during the global pandemic.

Trump also said that he had "the right" to fire Powell, but wouldn't do so, instead suggesting he could come the Chairman "into another role" at the Federal Reserve instead.

“I have the right to remove him ... no, I’m not doing that,” Trump told reporters. “I also have the right to put him in a regular position and put someone else in charge, and I haven’t made any decisions on that.”

Trump's latest attack comes just days before the Fed is slated to announce its latest interest rate decision, which markets are expecting to be a least a 50 basis point cut in the Fed Fund benchmark, which would take it to a range of 0.25% to 0.5%.

A growing plurality is looking for a full 1% cut from Powell and his colleagues when it wraps up its two-day meeting on March 18.

That plurality includes Goldman's chief economist, Jan Hatzius, who thinks the full 1% cut should be made in one go, rather than spread over two meetings in April and May, in order to address some of the immediate issues the U.S. economy is facing from the coronavirus pandemic.

"In light of the continued growth in coronavirus cases in the U.S. and globally, the sharp further tightening in financial conditions, and rising risks to the economic outlook, we now expect the FOMC to cut the funds rate 100 basis points on March 18," Hatzius argued in a client note.

Financial markets are certainly under stress: The Dow had its biggest decline since 2008 last week as stocks around the world lurched lower amid the rapid advance of the virus and the economic damage it is likely to leave it its wake.

The moves have taken the S&P 500 some 20% from their recent peaks -- recorded in only seventeen days -- in what is being described as the fastest bear market correction in history.

Not all of Wall Street, however, is convinced that the blunt instrument of interest rate cuts will provide the support markets need.

Hedge fund manager David Tepper, who predicted the market's reaction to a coronavirus outbreak in early February, wants the Fed to launch a targeted quantitative easing program, with $200 billion in bond and mortgage purchases.

That approach might worry Fed governors, however, after having seen European stocks fall the most on record following the European Central Bank's decision to focus its support strategy on bond purchases purchases and loan support programs while leaving interest rates unchanged.

"As Christine Lagarde said, she had no intention of having her own 'whatever-it-takes' moment. This is a package aimed at supporting the banks and preventing the sort of credit crunch that we saw in 2008," said ING's chief economist, Carsten Brzeski. "In fact, it is highly questionable whether any big bazooka would help, at least not right now."

"The only thing which could really stop fear, uncertainty and turmoil would be a vaccine and certainly not monetary policy easing," he added.