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Fed Reserve's Bies, policy centrist, to step down March 30

Section: Daily Dispatches

By David Lawder
via Yahoo News
Friday, February 9, 2007

U.S. Federal Reserve Governor Susan Bies, a banking expert and monetary-policy centrist, will step down on March 30, the central bank said on Friday, marking the third top Fed official to announce a departure this year.

Bies, who has been a member of the Fed's Board of Governors since December 2001, does not plan to attend the March 20-21 meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, the Fed said -- a customary practice for departing Fed board members.

Bies, 59, was appointed by President George W. Bush to a full term that was due to end January 31, 2012. The Fed said she plans to spend more time with her family.

Bies' resignation will leave two open seats on the normally seven-strong Fed Board, the nucleus for U.S. monetary policy-making. Mark Olson stepped down last June and Bush has yet to nominate anyone to replace him.

Bies has been a centrist on monetary policy and has never dissented in her six years on the Fed Board.

With markets viewing an increasing possibility of rate hikes in coming months that could slow the U.S. economy in the 2008 presidential election year, Bush's nominees for the posts could have significant influence over Fed policy.

"My guess is that Bush probably would not want to nominate someone who might be perceived as an inflation hawk, but more of an inflation dove," said Bernard Baumohl, executive director The Economic Outlook Group in Princeton Junction, New Jersey.

"This is a very critical time for the Federal Reserve. The economy is going quite strongly and there are some concerns about inflation percolating and they really do need to have the board fully staffed," he said, adding that Democrats in Congress will insist on well-qualified, independent-thinking candidates.

Before she was named to the Fed board, Bies was executive vice president for risk management at First Tennessee National Corp., a Memphis-based bank. She remained focused on bank risk-management issues during her period on the Fed board.

She played a leading role on bank regulatory issues and was heavily involved with efforts to implement a new global bank capital accord known Basel II, which will start a three-year phase-in period in 2009 among the largest U.S. banks.

The accord, which requires banks to apply sophisticated risk management models to determine the amount of capital they hold against potential losses, came under criticism from U.S. lawmakers after test simulations showed big capital reductions for many banks.

But Bies argued that Basel II would make the global financial system safer by improving risk management and could be modified for use in the fragmented U.S. banking market.

She also influenced bank regulators' efforts to tighten mortgage underwriting standards as a five-year housing boom ran out of steam.

"They're clearly going to miss her expertise in the regulatory area a lot. There's never been a person on the board with as much knowledge in the field of bank regulation," said Lyle Gramley, a former Fed governor from 1980 to 1985.

"An expert in this area is badly needed," said Gramley, who now is senior economic adviser to the Stanford Washington Research Group.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said: "Sue's invaluable contributions to both monetary and regulatory policy at the Federal Reserve have been aided by her unique perspective as both an economist and a banker,"

Her departure comes amid an unusual amount of turnover at the U.S. central bank. The Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank announced a new president on Thursday and the heads of both the Chicago Fed and Boston Fed have announced they will step down this year.

Members of the Washington-based Fed board always have a vote on U.S. interest-rate policy, as does the head of the New York Fed. The presidents of the Fed's other 11 regional banks vote on a rotating basis.

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