This was not the first time that a Fed official had spoken before an invitation-only group of people who may have benefited from talking to him. In March 2017, Stanley Fischer, then the Fed’s vice chair, gave a closed-door speech at the Brookings Institution that drew some outcry. More commonly, Fed officials meet with economists and traders from banks and investment funds in small-group settings to exchange information about markets and the economy.
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And Fed officials regularly speak at bank events, though their remarks are typically flagged to the news media and either open to them, streamed or recorded. That was the case with a UBS event where Mr. Bullard was a speaker on Saturday.
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What is notable about Mr. Bullard’s Citi meeting is that it was neither an information-gathering excursion with a handful of people nor a publicly available speech. About 40 people attended the event, which had a formal agenda and was advertised to Citi clients, two people familiar with it said. Mr. Bullard spoke for 10 minutes before answering attendee questions.
“It’s important, even mission-critical, that the Fed is in open dialogue with all sectors of the economy,” said Kaleb Nygaard, who studies the central bank at the University of Pennsylvania. “Much of the letter, as well as the spirit, is that the central bankers are supposed to be on the receiving end of the information.”
The Citi forum also featured central bankers from outside the United States — including Anna Breman, deputy governor of Sweden’s Riksbank, and Olli Rehn of the European Central Bank’s governing council — but at least some of their appearances were flagged to the news media and some of their speeches were published.
It is not clear if Mr. Bullard’s speech violated the Fed’s communication rules, but some outside experts said they seemed to tiptoe near the line.
The Fed’s rules do not explicitly bar central bankers from closed-door meetings, though they do say that, “to the fullest extent possible, committee participants will refrain from describing their personal views about monetary policy in any meeting or conversation with any individual, firm or organization who could profit financially” unless those views have already been expressed in their public communications.