Thursday, 7 February 2008

US Federal Reserve Chief Lends His Ear To A Diverse Group

WASHINGTON -- Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, tops a long list of academics, executives and economists who met with the Fed's current chairman, Ben Bernanke, during a turbulent period for the nation's economy.

According to records obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, Mr. Bernanke had lunch with Mr. Greenspan on Jan. 2. That was just eight days before Mr. Bernanke delivered a speech in Washington that signaled a newly aggressive approach to interest-rate cuts.

Neither the Fed nor Mr. Greenspan would elaborate on what was discussed. A Fed spokeswoman described the lunch that day as "social" and Mr. Greenspan said it was "private."

Last year, Mr. Bernanke's second in office, was a stressful one for the economy and -- by extension -- the Fed chief. Pressures from the housing slump and the subprime mortgage market spread to Wall Street, where big banks announced heavy mortgage-related losses. Mr. Bernanke's meetings offer a rare window into his private daybook from January 2007 through last month.

Mr. Bernanke met separately with the chief executive of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage giants, and at least twice with former Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm, now the vice chairman at UBS Investment Bank. On Sept. 5, he met with Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., whose company weathered the credit-market turmoil better than some competitors.

Mr. Bernanke also spoke with some of the country's top business leaders, including John Chambers, chairman and chief executive of Cisco Systems Inc., Samuel Palmisano, chairman and CEO of International Business Machines Corp., Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford Motor Co., James Dimon, chairman and CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., and G. Kennedy Thompson, chairman and CEO of Wachovia Corp.

Other visitors included House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D., Mass.) and Sen. Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee. The schedule shows 26 different meals, meetings and phone calls with lawmakers, most of them Democrats. He also met with consumer groups and labor union leaders, including James Hoffa, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

"It's useful for board members to hear a broad range of views and insights from market participants, consumer groups, business leaders and academics," Fed spokeswoman Michelle Smith said.

Mr. Bernanke frequently has breakfast with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and his schedule also has included conversations with Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank, and Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England.

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