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Yellen gets a post-Fed payday in private meetings with Wall Street's elite

  • Janet Yellen visited Wall Street for a paid appearance two months after stepping down as Fed chair.
  • Yellen discussed the economy and interest rates at an event hosted by investment bank Jefferies that included a sit-down dinner for forty.
  • She revealed no confidential information at Monday's gathering, put on by Jefferies CEO Richard Handler.

Janet Yellen visited Wall Street for a paid appearance two months after stepping down as Fed chair, discussing the economy and interest rates at an event hosted by investment bank Jefferies that included a sit-down dinner for forty.

In a short telephone interview, Yellen, who ran the U.S. Federal Reserve the last four years until early February, said she revealed no confidential information at Monday's gathering, put on by Jefferies CEO Richard Handler.

One source familiar with the event told Reuters it was her first such engagement since leaving the Fed.

"I talked about the economy and general perspectives on monetary policy," Yellen said late on Wednesday. She said she was paid but declined to say how much, and did not provide details.

The program included a question-and-answer session with more than 100 Jefferies clients, where according to the source she stuck close to the gradual rate-hike message that her successor, Jerome Powell, has also delivered since taking charge.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen speaks during a news conference December 13, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Getty Images
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen speaks during a news conference December 13, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Later, over dinner at the Manhattan penthouse of Jefferies' chief executive, Yellen told executives from hedge funds, private equity firms and other companies that she considered inflation to be in check and unlikely to spike, so rates would stay relatively low, according to a second person familiar with the discussion.

Cashing in after years in public service is a well-trodden path for policymakers and regulators, highlighting the demand among investors for any exclusive insights they can offer.

In the case of former Fed chiefs, who can earn an annual salary in one night and have no constraints on expressing their views provided they do not broach confidential matters, those insights could potentially move markets.

Yellen's predecessor Ben Bernanke waited just over a month after leaving the Fed in 2014 before earning some $250,000 for a private talk in Abu Dhabi. He followed that up with similarly-priced private dinners with investors in New York, at which he predicted rates would remain low for a long time.

Former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan waited only a week after stepping down before addressing a private dinner in 2006 hosted by Lehman Brothers, the investment bank whose collapse two years later sent the global financial crisis into high gear.

'An amazing evening'

Under Yellen, who earned just more than $200,000 per year as chair, the Fed finally turned the corner from its crisis-era policies of near-zero interest rates and trillions of dollars of bond-buying.

At Monday's larger forum for Jefferies clients, she expressed the view that three or four rate rises were likely this year, and that recent U.S. tax cuts and a boost in government spending posed at least some risk of running the economy hot, according to the first source, who requested anonymity.

Reuters was not able to reach David Zervos, the Jefferies chief strategist who conducted the forum and who later tweeted a link to a photograph of him with a smiling Yellen on Instagram.

"An amazing evening last night hosting Janet Yellen for our clients in NY," read the tweet, posted Tuesday.

The Fed raised rates last month at its first meeting under Powell, and forecasts showed policymakers were split between three or four total hikes this year as economic growth and inflation were seen rising.

Yellen joined the Brookings Institution think tank immediately after stepping down and spoke publicly there in February about the economy. Last month she discussed her Fed tenure at University of Pennsylvania.

In recent months she was listed as a speaker-for-hire by the Washington Speakers Bureau, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Her profile page, alongside that of Bernanke and Greenspan, says she travels from Washington and fees vary based on event location.