What Do You Ask Ben Bernanke?

Posted by Brad McMillan, CFA, CAIA, MAI

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This entry was posted on Nov 10, 2015 1:13:52 PM

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ben bernankeStarting tomorrow, I will be off to Commonwealth’s National Conference for the rest of the week. It will be a very busy several days, including a giving-back project, which is a Commonwealth tradition that we do at every event, leaving a place somewhat better than we found it; a birthday dinner for an advisor friend; multiple other dinners and functions; and, of course, my conversation with Ben Bernanke on Friday.

Interview prep

I’ve spent the past couple of weeks working on preparing for the interview, which included reading his book, The Courage to Act. This is a very good book, which I will review next week, and reading it has been helpful in framing parts of what I plan for our discussion. There is, however, one major problem: The book, by its nature, is backward looking. Although (at least at the moment) it is still quite current, running to the first half of this year, the primary focus is on what happened in the past decade.

This is fascinating reading—as I said, a very good book—but I don’t think time spent with a very fine economist who ran the Federal Reserve during the financial crisis is best used to exclusively go over the past. At the same time, what comes out quite clearly in the book is that the crisis provides the context for the next decade. I have, therefore, been trying to strike a balance between the crisis and the future.

Framing the discussion

What I’ve ended up with, so far, is to have different sections within the discussion:

  • The first section will cover Bernanke’s tenure as a central banker and what he did during the crisis.
  • The second section will cover his current role, as a private economist, and what he sees going forward.

I hope the first part will provide a frame for the second part and that the second part will actually address what I, as an investor, need to know.

How can investors best use the insights of economists?

At the core of the discussion, I hope to answer this question. As an economist, Bernanke did a great job of guiding the country through the crisis. By connecting how and why he acted then with the current situation, I hope to provide Commonwealth advisors attending the conference with insight about how and why the future might evolve from an economic standpoint. We can then use that insight to develop our investment theses.

At the same time, investment is not the same as economics, another point that comes out quite clearly in the book. So, I want to spend time talking about his thoughts about what that might mean for financial markets. As part of that, I’m interested to see how Bernanke handles his personal investments. At a high level, for instance, does he handle his own investments or does he have an advisor? If so, how did he pick that advisor?

Preparing for the future

In the end, what I think will provide the most value to the audience is a mix of war stories from the past and some thoughtful discussion about what those stories mean for the future—and how he himself is preparing for that future. It’s not often you get a chance to talk with someone like Dr. Bernanke, and I am looking forward to it.

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