Five criteria Obama may weigh in seeking Bernanke successor

WASHINGTON, June 7 Fri Jun 7, 2013 1:00am EDT

WASHINGTON, June 7 (Reuters) - In the summer of 2009, with the U.S. economy badly wounded and the nation's financial calamity still a vivid memory, President Barack Obama's closest aides began a vital discussion about who he should nominate to run the Federal Reserve.

It was, according several former insiders, a short conversation. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke was battling resolutely to restore growth, hiring and financial stability, and little serious consideration was given to an alternative.

Furthermore, Obama's most trusted adviser on financial matters, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who had formerly led the New York Fed, had a deep relationship with Bernanke and was a strong advocate for not changing horses in mid-stream.

Four years later, continuity will again be a big factor as the White House begins to think about who should succeed Bernanke if, as widely expected, he steps down when his second term as chairman expires at the end of January.

The stakes are huge. The U.S. recovery remains fragile, and financial markets are anxious about how long the Fed intends to continue its massive and unconventional stimulus: $85 billion a month of bond purchases that have helped propel stock markets to record highs and driven interest rates to historic lows.

Bernanke has said nothing publicly about his plans. But the former Princeton professor has not torpedoed the notion he does not want a third term, a view that gained traction with his plan to skip the Fed's big annual economic summit in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in August, the first Fed chair to miss it in 25 years.

The White House has also declined to comment on the Fed choice, widely expected by September. Were Obama to look beyond Bernanke, he could weigh several criteria: policy continuity and market credibility; Senate confirmability; crisis management credentials; and trust.