Meeting Ben Bernanke: The Day I Will Remember Forever

Last Wednesday (October 7, 2015), I had a chance to meet Ben Bernanke, former chairman of the Federal Reserve and the most powerful man in the world (well, was).

Not that I got a handshake, but got to ask a question.

So how did I get to meet him? It was part of WSJ Pro Central Banking events.

Recently, Wall Street Journal introduced a subscription service, “WSJ Pro”. It debuted with WSJ Pro Central Banking. Its parent company, Dow Jones, describes it as a “premium suite of industry and subject-specific content services, combining news, data, and events in a single membership platform.” The key word is “events”. “Events” is what I love about the subscription. “Events” in other words mean, meeting high-profile people and networking with people in the financial industry.

I had a free access for a while, but now that’s gone. During my trial, I registered for two events, “Breakfast Interview Series: William Dudley” and “Breakfast Interview Series: Ben Bernanke”. I was lucky enough to be chosen to go to both of them.

The event with William Dudley, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, took place on September 28. Did not get a chance to ask a question. Nevertheless, great event. Full video of the interview can be found here.

The event with Ben Bernanke took place on October 7. I was so excited for this particular event. Well, who doesn’t want to meet Ben Bernanke? I woke up on 4:30 in the morning and left my house at 6:45 AM. I got to the location of the event by about 7:50. When I checked in, I got an autographed copy of Mr. Bernanke’s new book, “The Courage to Act.” Signed, Sealed, Delivered.

It wasn’t until 8:30 AM when Mr. Bernanke entered the room, getting me and others excited. Along with him, there was WSJ’s Chief Economics Correspondent, Jon Hilsenrath, who also interviewed William Dudley the week before.

During the Q&A session, I got a chance to ask a question. I was so excited and confident. I strongly believed that I was not nervous at all. But, that wasn’t the case.

When I got handed the microphone, I instantly went blind. I forgot most of what I was going to say. It was like Warren Buffett, my idol, interviewing me for a job.

The first word out of my mouth was “student”, when I actually should have stated my name. Asking a question to a person like Ben Bernanke got me so nervous, I mumbled and rambled during my question. My question basically was, “If you were the president, what would you do about the taxes, corporate taxes, which is too high?”

Full video of the interview can be found here. I can be heard asking the question at 42:30.

I asked it because I strongly believe U.S. corporate taxes are too high, causing inversions. Although I got a reasonable answer, I believe I would have gotten better answer if I asked the question in a different way.

My first encounter with a high-profile person made me so nervous, yet taught me a big lesson. It significantly improved my confidence and ability to ask a question (to a high-profile person) without being so nervous. Who’s the next high-profile person I will meet? Janet Yellen?

A short video of Mr. Bernanke leaving the “stage”

A picture of Mr. Bernanke leaving the “stage”

Screenshot_2015-10-07-10-40-50 (3)


I will forever remember this day, October 7, 2015.

Thank you, Wall Street Journal.

UPDATE: At the event when I was asking the question,

WSJ (2)

Repulsive Jobs Report

Last Friday (October 2), jobs report for September came out way weaker than expected. Non-farm payrolls report shows 142K jobs were added, vs 200K expectations. Unemployment rate stood unchanged at seven-year low of 5.1%. Not only that, but wage gains stalled, labor force shrank, and July and August gains were revised lower.

July job gains were revised lower to 223K from 245K (-22K) and August job gains were revised lower to 136K from 173K (-37K), totaling downward revisions of 59K. Average jobs gains for third quarter is now at 167K, lower than the 2014 average of 260K. So far, job growth has averaged 198K a month this year, compared with an average gain of 260K a month the previous year.

Total Non-Farm Payrolls – Monthly Net Change
Total Non-Farm Payrolls – Monthly Net Change

Unemployment rate stayed at 5.1% only because people stopped looking for work. In other words, they lost confidence in the labor market. 350K people dropped out of the labor force which took labor force participation rate fell to 62.4%, the lowest in 38 years (1977), from 62.6% in the previous three months.

Labor Participation Rate (Source: @ReutersJamie)
Labor Participation Rate (Source: @ReutersJamie)

Wages also showed weakness. Average hourly earnings fell by a penny to $25.09 after rising 9 cents in September. The average workweek declined by 0.1 hour to 34.5 hours.

There are increased worries that global slowdown is weighing on the domestic economy. The repulsive jobs report knocked down the chances of a rate-hike for this year. Federal Funds Rate (FFR) shows less than 10% and less than 35% chance of rate hike in October and December, respectively. Regardless of weak jobs growth, I still expect 0.10% rate-hike this month. But, I don’t expect 25 basis points for the year. If 0.25% were nothing, the Fed would have raised it already. The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) will meet on Tuesday-Wednesday, October 27-28.

Weak jobs report seems to point out a weak third quarter GDP growth following a strong rebound in the 2nd quarter. According to final GDP report released on September 25, second quarter grew at an annual pace of 3.9%, vs previous estimate of 3.7%. Advance (1st estimate) GDP report for the third quarter will be released on Thursday, October 29.

In the first quarter, the economy grew only 0.6% because of strong U.S. dollar, low energy prices, West Coast port strike, and the bad weather. Well, winter is approaching. Who’s not to say that the weather will hamper the growth again? The dollar is still strong and the energy prices are still low.

Energy sector continues to struggle. The mining industry – which includes oil and natural-gas drillers — lost 10K jobs last month, totaling 102K losses of jobs since December 2014. Energy companies continue to layoff workers since low energy prices are hurting companies. Energy companies like Chesapeake Energy and ConocoPhillips continues to reduce its workforce and its operations, and cut capital expenditures to offset higher costs.

Earlier in September, the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) report showed that there were 5.8 million job openings in July, a series (series began in December 2000) record and higher than 5.4 million in May, as employers cannot find qualified workers.

It’s likely to get worse in the longer-term because of higher minimum wages. If employers pay higher wages, more people, especially teenagers, are likely to drop out and work. If states and companies continue to raise minimum wages, jobs that require skills such as programming, etc, will not be filled in the United States, but in countries with higher amount of education. That’s why recent minimum wage increases will batter, not help, the U.S. economy in the longer-term.

Reactions to the jobs report:

US markets fell immediately after the report, but rebounded later. 10-year Treasury yield fell below 2%, to the lowest level since April. US Dollar plunged, but recuperated about half of the losses later.

Standard & Poor 500 ETF ("SPY") - Hourly
Standard & Poor 500 ETF (“SPY”) – Hourly


10-Year Treasury Index ("TNX") - Hourly
10-Year Treasury Index (“TNX”) – Hourly


US Dollar ("/DX") - Hourly
US Dollar (“/DX”) – Hourly