Bernanke not at this year's Jackson Hole summit

Updated: Friday, 23 Aug 2013 14:02

Central bankers from around the globe gather later this weekend in Jackson Hole in Wyoming.

But for once, the absence of the Federal Reserve chairman means their annual get-together is not likely to spoil the summer holidays of traders on Wall Street.

Fed chief Ben Bernanke declined his annual invitation, breaking a 25-year tradition, and Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen - a top contender to replace Bernanke in January 2014 - will only be moderating a panel.

As a result, there is no keynote Fed speech to open the conference, and the chances of a deliberate effort to signal an upcoming change in US monetary policy have been lowered dramatically.

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In prior years, Bernanke has used the venue to prepare financial markets for shifts in the Fed's policy stance.

Despite his absence, Bernanke very likely will be at the centre of the chatter on the sidelines of the conference, as delegates ponder who will replace him when his term expires.

US President Barack Obama has said both Yellen and his former economic adviser Lawrence Summers are top candidates for the job, and he will make up his mind in the autumn. Summers is also not attending the summit.

Despite the absence of Bernanke, the event will still be the best place to hear high-powered, informed debate about the latest thinking in global central banking.

This year's conference focuses on unconventional monetary policy and the evidence on whether quantitative easing, forward guidance or a combination of both provide policymakers with the most firepower with interest rates cut to near zero.

The discussion could not be more timely, coming just a few weeks after the Bank of England and European Central Bank followed the Fed by providing guidance on how long they would keep interest rates low.

However, neither Bank of England chief Mark Carney nor ECB President Mario Draghi will attend this year. But Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda will be there, and the Bank of England's scond in charge Charles Bean and ECB Vice President Vitor Constancio will also make the trip.

The remoteness of the conference at the base of the Grand Teton mountain range has long been a key attraction, especially those who relish hiking or fishing in the nearby Snake River, renowned among fly fishermen, including former Fed chief Paul Volcker, who attended several times.

But from a policy perspective, Bernanke's remarks opening the conference on the first morning have always grabbed the spotlight.

And while the usual crop of senior Fed officials in attendance will speak to reporters on the sidelines of the conference, this time around that chatter is not likely to coalesce into a clear message on what to expect on policy.

In fact, the Fed has already said plenty to prepare financial markets for a reduction in its $85 billion monthly bond buying programme later this year.

Economists expect the Fed to move at its September 17-18 meeting, but will wait for August jobs data, due to be released on September 6, for a stronger sense of whether the economy is ready for a move.

They will also disect the minutes of last month's meeting for clues on how strongly the Fed's policy-setting committee is leaning toward September. Bernanke has already said he expects the third round of quantitative easing, or QE3, will be wound down by the middle of 2014, provided the economy improves as expected.

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