Fed Chief Bernanke Is 'the Ultimate Lame Duck': Langone

According to billionaire investor Kenneth Langone, whatever Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says is now temporary because it looks like he'll be leaving his post. According to Langone, "Bernanke is the ultimate lame duck right now."

By: Matthew J. Belvedere
Published: Wednesday, 19 Jun 2013

Whatever Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says now is temporary because it looks like he'll be leaving his post, billionaire investor Kenneth Langone told CNBC on Wednesday.

Talk about Bernanke's future intensified after President Barack Obama—in an interview with Charlie Rose that aired Monday—hinted that the Fed chairman may be on his way out.

"To me," Langone said on "Squawk Box" Wednesday, "Bernanke is the ultimate lame duck right now. I mean whatever he says is temporary."

Another guest on the program, Martin Feldstein—chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Ronald Reagan—agreed. "I think the president was telling the world that Bernanke isn't going to continue to serve at the end of this term." Bernanke's second four-year term as head of the nation's central bank ends Jan. 31.

"The president more or less said, ... 'Your time is up Mr. Bernanke,'" said Feldstein, a Harvard economics professor. "I didn't think that was a nice gesture on the president's part."

The Fed chairman was "worthy of better treatment than what he's getting right now," agreed Langone, co-founder of Home Depot and current chairman of Invemed Associates.

Randy Kroszner, a former Fed governor, said the president's comments were "unfortunate," adding that Obama "seemed a bit tired and a bit sort of off his game" in the Charlie Rose interview. "I don't think [the president] meant to say the sort of thing that he said."

With his departure likely, Bernanke is "going to want to get his so called 'exit strategy' underway," Feldstein said. "That is, he is going to want to start the tapering before he leaves, so he can say, 'I did all these good things and I put us on an exit path.'"

The Fed concludes its latest two-day meeting Wednesday afternoon. And in the policy statement, economic projections, and the Bernanke news conference to follow, investors will be looking for hints on when that "exit strategy," that's become known as a tapering of quantitative easing, will begin.

As for where monetary policy goes post-Bernanke, Kroszner told CNBC "it'll be relatively easy to move forward with something that's very similar," if his replacement "shares the battle scars and the philosophy of the current chairman."

Kroszner, an economic professor at the University of Chicago Booth School, said that would be true of Fed Vice Chairwoman Janet Yellen, who's is likely to be considered for the job and would be the first woman ever to chair the central bank. Other possible candidates include former Treasury secretaries Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner.

Langone said Bernanke won't be easy to replace. "The guy had enormous influence … on the decisions that were made. And many cases, the speculation was he forced things through because he felt strongly about it. He's not just one of 18 [policymakers]. He was the guy."

"I think that was [also] true in the Greenspan-era," Kroszner said, but added that when Alan Greenspan's retirement as Fed chairman was announced in 2006, "I don't think it caused disruptions in the markets."

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