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Jackson Hole hosts Fed chairman, annual economic conference

Jackson Hole is hosting more than 40 countries for the annual economic conference that kicked off Friday morning with a speech from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

The program for this year’s event said discussions would focus on the challenges policy makers are facing in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Bernanke spoke in front of central bankers, economists, as well as academics, describing the economic situation as “far from satisfactory.” He said high unemployment is a “grave concern.”

The typically picturesque Teton mountain range was clouded by smoke Friday morning. And the outlook on the U.S. economy was equally as hazy.

But Bernanke said the Fed can, and will, do more to help.

“Oh, the speech was very, very thoughtful,” said Dr. Jacob A. Frenkel, chairman of JPMorgan Chase International. “It was both professional as well as providing assurance to the market.”

Investors took a little longer to react to Bernanke’s opening remarks. The Dow Jones industrial average shed some earlier gains, then rose more than 100 points to close up nearly 91 points.

Frenkel said the Fed knows what its doing.

“(Bernanke) reminded everyone that the real gorilla is fiscal policy,” he said. “It is in Congress, and what the Fed reserve can do is provide breathing space and time for the rest of the policy makers to get their act together.”

The event is in its 36th year and 31st at Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park. The 30-year milestone was marked in 2012 with a book by the host, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

So what brought that 1982 conference to Jackson Hole in the first place?

It was the trout.

Fed chairman at the time, Paul Volcker, was a big fan of fly-fishing and organizers felt having him there was critical to the event’s success. They thought of Colorado, but were told it would be too warm for trout in August.
Then someone suggested Jackson Hole. Volcker accepted the invitation, and the rest is history.

“The fact of the matter is it brings in policy makers and financial people from all over the world to discuss common issues to the world,” said Frenkel. “And it’s a success.”

Analysts and economists say Bernanke indicated that the Fed is likely to take action at its September meeting.

Jackson Hole will play host to another global economic event next week. The Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club will team up for a forum Sept. 4.

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