Unless things change, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke plans to break precedent and absent himself from the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank's annual Jackson Hole symposium this year.
"The chairman is currently not planning to attend because of a personal scheduling conflict," a Fed spokesperson said.
The Fed chairman has been a perennial fixture at the prestigious central banking forum, held each year in late August in Wyoming's Grand Tetons National Park, since it began in 1982. Prior to that, the Kansas City Fed held the event in other locations.
From Paul Volcker to Alan Greenspan to Bernanke, Fed chairmen have given the keynote speech to a relatively small group of participants, typically including many other Fed policymakers as well as senior foreign central bank officials and top economists.
Often, those anxiously awaited presentations have been used to herald some shift in U.S. monetary policy, as when Bernanke strongly suggested the advent of a second round of "quantitative easing" in 2010.
"Speculation will be rampant," commented John Silvia, chief economist for Wells Fargo.
Undoubtedly, Bernanke's decision not to attend the Jackson Hole symposium will fuel speculation that Bernanke will decline a third term as chairman, assuming it is offered, when his current term as chairman expires on Feb. 1 next year.
Bernanke has not explicitly said whether or not he would be prepared to serve another four years as chairman, but at his March 20 press conference he said pointedly that he is not the only person qualified to lead the Fed as it exits from a "highly accommodative" monetary policy.
It is widely believed that, should Bernanke leave, he would be succeeded by Vice Chairman Janet Yellen.
Although the news that Bernanke doesn't plan to be at Jackson Hole comes as something of a surprise, it comes in the wake of a decision last year by the head of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi not to attend the event, as had long been customary.
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