| NEW YORK/ABU DHABI, March 4
NEW YORK/ABU DHABI, March 4 Ben Bernanke earned
more in 40 minutes on Tuesday than he made all of last year as
head of the U.S. Federal Reserve.
Bernanke was paid at least $250,000 for his first public
speaking engagement, in Abu Dhabi, since stepping down in
January, according to sources familiar with the matter. That
compares to his 2013 paycheck of $199,700, and the appearance
was only the first of three around the world this week.
Bernanke's public post-Fed debut was a departure from the
private audiences that his predecessor Alan Greenspan addressed
shortly after he handed over the central bank's reins in 2006.
In his remarks, Bernanke recounted the Fed's response to the
2007-2009 financial crisis, an issue he is exploring for a book
he plans to shop around to publishers.
In hitting the speaking circuit, Bernanke is following a
well-trod path of top public servants cashing in on the demand
for the insights they can offer. In the case of a one-time Fed
chairman, those insights could potentially be market-moving.
And given that his successor, Janet Yellen, has vowed to
stay the course he set, investors could view him as a weather
vane for the world's most powerful central bank.
"He will obviously be enjoying the fruits of the free
market," said Jan Baran, a partner and head of the election law
and government ethics group at Washington law firm Wiley Rein
LLP. "He will personally experience supply and demand."
Lawyers and agents say Bernanke, 60, should be able to
command around $250,000 per speech for a while to come.
The paycheck "sounds reasonable to me," said one
speaking-circuit agent who did not want to be named. Bernanke
could have a "very long shelf life," he added.
While the fee launches him into the upper echelons of
sought-after speakers, it leaves him well short of former
President Bill Clinton - the gold standard of Americans turning
charisma into cash - who has, by some estimates, earned two or
even three times that much for some appearances in recent years.
"He's free to offer his own views either historical or
forward-looking," said Baran, when asked about the ethics of
Bernanke cashing in on his eight years as Fed chairman. "Nothing
sounds illegal or unethical and in fact it sounds fairly
As Bernanke joked on Tuesday: "I can say whatever I want."
Not always, as his predecessor learned.
Greenspan drew criticism for giving high-paying investors a
potential leg up on their competitors with closed-door remarks
about interest rates shortly after he left office, and for
comments in March 2007 on the probability of a U.S. recession
that roiled financial markets even as Bernanke was reassuring
investors about the outlook.
At the conference sponsored by the National Bank of Abu
Dhabi, attendees paid $2,000 each to listen to
Bernanke and other speakers, including former U.S. Treasury
Secretary Lawrence Summers. Greenspan garnered a similar fee in
the United Arab Emirates capital in 2008.
Bernanke, who is now a distinguished fellow at the
Washington-based Brookings Institution think-tank, did not
discuss monetary policy, and only brushed on prospects for the
U.S. economy. Instead, he choose to elaborate on his experience
as chairman, acknowledging the Fed could have done more to
battle the financial crisis.
Questions from the audience were relatively soft, leading to
a discussion about family and baseball. On Wednesday, Bernanke
speaks at a Johannesburg forum hosted by the financial firm
Discovery Limited, and on Friday he will discuss the U.S. energy
boom at a conference hosted by Siemens and IHS in Houston.
Through a Brookings spokeswoman, Bernanke declined to
comment on his speaking engagements.
Greenspan took to the speaking circuit one week after
departing office in January 2006 with an appearance at a private
dinner hosted by Lehman Brothers. That brought in a reported
$250,000, while a private telechat with investors in Japan that
same day brought in about $120,000.
Greenspan's take on that first day is equivalent to $433,000
today after adjusting for inflation.
For his planned memoir, Bernanke is being represented by
Robert Barnett, the Washington-based attorney who also handled
Greenspan, according to a source familiar with the situation.
Bernanke plans to meet publishers soon to discuss the book.
While it is unclear how large of a cash advance Bernanke is
seeking, Greenspan clinched $8 million.
Former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who is also
publishing a book, made $400,000 from three speeches to
financial firms, according to the Financial Times.
After handing the reins to Greenspan in 1987, former
chairman Paul Volcker also hit the speaking circuit after
learning, he later recounted, that he could make a year's salary
- about $80,000 for the Fed chief at the time - in a speech or