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Fed Chair Yellen Hints at Possible December Rate Hike in Congressional Testimony

mic-open [1]Federal Reserve [2] Chair Janet L. Yellen testified before the House Financial Services Committee [3]Wednesday morning to discuss supervision and regulation among U.S. financial institutions, but the looming interest rate hike was the subject no one could resist touching on.

Yellen appeared before the Committee due to President Obama’s failure to appoint a Vice Chairman for Supervision at the Federal Reserve, a requirement of the Dodd-Frank Act, which was signed into law five years ago. The testimony is expected to occur twice a year.

According to the requirement of the Dodd-Frank Act, the position is supposed to be filled by a person appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

“Dodd-Frank’s massive expansion of the Federal Reserve’s authority has made the Fed America’s most powerful regulatory agency as well as our nation’s central bank,” said Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), House Financial Services Committee. “President Obama’s inability or unwillingness to fulfill this requirement of Dodd-Frank and appoint a Vice Chair for Supervision deprives Congress of an important opportunity to conduct effective oversight and hold the Fed accountable. That’s simply unacceptable. Until the president appoints someone, we will have Chair Yellen testify and answer our questions.”

Chairman Hensarling announced in late October that Yellen would testify [4]before the Committee to talk about pressing concerns surrounding banks including regulation, stress testing, interest rates, compliance, community banks, and a host of other topics.

yellen_janet_rdax_161x201 [5]

Federal Reserve Chair Janet L. Yellen

Chair Yellen began her testimony by identifying some goals of the financial system, which included strength, resiliency, and the ability to serve a healthy and growing economy.

“Today we aim to regulate and supervise financial firms in a manner that promotes the stability of the financial system as a whole,” she said. “This shift in focus has led to a comprehensive change in our regulation and supervision of large financial institutions.”— Fed Chair Janet L. Yellen 

Chair Yellen added, “We have introduced a series of requirements for large banking organizations that reduce the risks to the system and our economy that could result from the failure or distress of these institutions. In addition, we have made changes in our supervision that now allow us to supervise large financial institutions on a more coordinated, forward-looking basis.”

In terms of imbalanced supervision, Chair Yellen said in her testimony that the Fed takes it very seriously and has made fulfilling the supervisory role an important responsibility.

“Congress created that position and I welcome having it filled,” Chair Yellen noted. Until this happens, she mentioned that Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo has done “an outstanding job of leading or work in this area.”

Regulation among banks was another hot-button topic during the testimony.

Chair Yellen identified several reforms that have been put in place to address risks from large banks, but the possibility of failure of these large banks persists.

“Taken as a whole, the reforms we have adopted since the crisis, including those mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act, represent a substantial strengthening of the regulatory framework for the largest financial institutions and should help ensure that the U.S. financial system remains able to fulfill its vital role of supporting the economy,” she said. “Our supervisory approach is more comprehensive and forward-looking while also tailored to fit the level of oversight to the risks and scope of the institution.”

Interest rates nearly took center stage in this banking testimony as Chair Yellen noted that the domestic economy is “pretty strong” and the “gradual rise in rates should not derail the housing market.”

"Employment is going up, income is going up, consumers are in better shape to form households,” she explained. “If the labor market improves, inflation will move up. December sounds incrementally more likely (for a rate increase), but it hinges on jobs reports.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics will release two more jobs reports before the Federal Open Market Committee's next meeting in mid-December.

However, Democrats on the Committee were adamant about holding off on the rate hike. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-California) told Chair Yellen that “God does not want you to raise interest rates until May.”

In the midst of Chair Yellen’s testimony, U.S. stocks “wavered” and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 11 points, or 0.1 percent, to 17908. The S&P 500 was mostly flat and the Nasdaq Composite added 0.1 percent, according to the Wall Street Journal. [6]

Chair Yellen wrapped up her testimony by noting that there is more work to be done, but she hopes that changes that have taken place can been seen by all.

“We know our work is not complete. In the coming year we anticipate moving forward on other rulemaking initiatives that will complement the steps we have already taken,” she concluded. “The Federal Reserve is committed to remaining vigilant, diligent, and forward-looking as a regulator and supervisor of the financial institutions that serve our economy. We will do everything we can to fulfill the responsibility that has been entrusted to us by the Congress and the American public.”

Click here [7] to watch the testimony.

Click here [3] to read Chair Yellen's testimony.