WASHINGTON – Ben Bernanke is intensifying speculation that this year will be his last as Federal Reserve chairman by deciding to skip the Fed’s annual August conference in Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Jackson Hole has long been a high-profile platform for speeches by Fed chairmen. Since taking over the Fed in 2006, Bernanke has been the marquee speaker each year. In 2010, he used his speech to signal that the Fed could launch another bond-buying program. Stock prices jumped in response to his remarks.
His second four-year term will end in January, and neither he nor President Barack Obama has signaled whether Bernanke will serve a third term.
The Jackson Hole retreat, sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, will be held Aug. 22-24. A Fed spokesman said Monday that Bernanke won’t attend because of a “personal scheduling conflict.” The spokesman didn’t elaborate.
Tim Duy, an economics professor at the University of Oregon and author of the FedWatch blog, said Bernanke’s decision suggests that he’ll leave the Fed in January.
“I wonder if that indicates what we all believe,” Duy said.
All eyes at the conference will likely instead focus on the Fed’s vice chair, Janet Yellen, who is widely considered the front-runner to succeed Bernanke. Yellen, who previously led the San Francisco Fed, was appointed vice chair by Obama. Yellen has been a vocal supporter of Bernanke’s low interest rate policies, and her selection would suggest that the Fed would continue those policies.
And if Yellen is the keynote speaker at Jackson Hole this year, “that would just confirm her front-runner status,” said Zach Pandl, an economist at Columbia Management, an asset management firm.
About 140 central bankers, economists, academics and government officials attend the annual conference, which is in its 37th year.