Wall Street Is Obsessed with Gary Cohn

gary cohn
AP/Alex Brandon

The fate of Gary Cohn is a big topic at New York’s biggest Wall Street conference Tuesday.

That’s hardly surprising. Many on Wall Street view Cohn, the White House’s chief economic adviser, as their man inside the White House. Many think financial markets would be shaken if Cohn were to leave or be forced out of the administration.

One of those people is Ray Dalio, the founder and chairman of the enormous hedge fund Bridgewater Associates. Bridgewater manages around $150 billion of assets, making it the world’s largest.

“I think it would be terrible if Gary left,” Dalio said in an interview at the Delivering Alpha conference.

That hyperbole is common despite its implausibility. If financial markets turned on the employment of a single White House staffer, that would be the first time in history such a situation existed. In short, this is a treasured bit of conventional wisdom on Wall Street that’s likely as wrong as much of Wall Street’s wisdom.

Recall, prior to the election Wall Street thought a Trump victory would crash markets. Instead, stocks saw a historic rally and are still headed higher.

Dalio attempted to explain his position by saying that Cohn’s departure would undermine economic progress, presumably on tax cuts, and highlight the challenge the Trump administration has faced filling jobs.

Dalio credits the Trump administration with being “broadly positive” for the economy and markets. The administration has created a “pro-business environment,” he said.

He even sounded a bit populist.

“If we can create a pro-business environment and have togetherness at the same time, that’s positive,” he said. “A big element is how we deal with people in the bottom 60 percent of the economy.”

Dalio was less emphatic about whether Cohn should be appointed to the Federal Reserve. “It’s very important that a Fed chairman have a combination or technical skills and wisdom,” he said.

Cohn has no experience in the technicalities of monetary policy. So would Cohn make a good chairman?

“Gary’s a very capable man. His greatest strength is knowing who else to speak to,” Dalio said.

He didn’t mention any wisdom or technical skill. So that’s a half-hearted endorsement at best.