Although the Federal Reserve has made progress in striving toward greater transparency, there's still quite a bit about the central bank that we don't know. That fact sometimes leads to speculation about what the Fed is up to and what it might intend.
Such is the case with word that Chairman Ben Bernanke won't attend the annual Jackson Hole conference, held by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City in Grand Teton National Park.
The Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium, attended by central bankers from around the globe, has been used for important speeches in recent years. At the gathering last August, Bernanke signaled that the Fed would begin a new round of so-called quantitative easing. That has translated into $85 billion in monthly asset purchases aimed at supporting the economy.
According to a Fed spokesperson, "The chairman is currently not planning to attend because of a personal scheduling conflict." That was the extent of the Fed's explanation. The conference is tentatively scheduled for late August.
More than a conflict?
John Silvia, chief economist with Wells Fargo, says there's possibly more than meets the eye. Says Silvia: "I trust it is not his health." Silvia says the decision to stay out of the spotlight gives Bernanke's eventual successor a freer hand to implement policy initiatives.
Bernanke's term as chairman expires early next year.
Silvia says it is hard to imagine what would be more important for Bernanke than to attend the conference, which has been held at the park for three decades.
No shortage of opportunities to speak
Taking another view, chief economist Diane Swonk with Mesirow Financial believes it is probably only a schedule conflict and nothing more. "I would never put too much weight into it," Swonk says. "Remember, the reason they started there was then-Chairman (Paul) Volker liked to fly-fish."
There are plenty of Fed conferences where officials can make policy pronouncements, Swonk says. For instance, last year there was a similar schedule conflict and the conference was shifted to help Bernanke to attend. As for whether he seeks reappointment or departs as scheduled next year, Swonk says it is likely Bernanke will likely leave the job and "return to Princeton or take a break."
The next chance for reporters to pose questions to Bernanke is at the regular news conference at the end of a two-day policy meeting in mid-June.
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