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Filling Bernanke’s Shoes: The Sooner, The Better

Filling Bernanke’s Shoes: The Sooner, The Better

“Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide,” Napoleon Bonaparte once said. While the French emperor and general is known for many things, indecisiveness is not one of them, and his words serve as a reminder that when the time comes to make a decision, putting it off will not make it any easier.

With this in mind, it seems that many in the world of finance are anxiously awaiting the decision by our own leaders as to who will succeed Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve. It's an issue that was brought to the fore this week when President Obama remarked that the Fed chief has probably stayed in his role longer than he should have.

"Clarity. We need clarity, especially in the pits behind me," says Jeff Kilburg, founder and CEO of KKM Financial, in the attached video. As much as he and many other economists and observers feel that Fed vice chair Janet Yellen will ultimately be tipped for the top job, he thinks the time of the transition will make it extra tricky.

"It is pretty amazing that Bernanke is going to pass the baton during this time because the next six months are critical," Kilburg says from his perch at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

When addressing the Fed successor debate, some commentators — including billionaire Home Depot financier Ken Langone, who has gone as far as calling Bernanke "the ultimate lame duck" — are asking "why wait?"

For his part, Bernanke tried to downplay the matter during his quarterly press conference on Wednesday, saying that despite the President's remarks, he didn't have anything to say about his "personal plans."

That might work for the former Princeton professor, but markets and investors won't wait for a confirmation to react. And right now surveys show vice chair Janet Yellen is the overwhelming favorite to get the job.

In fact, Yahoo! Finance senior columnist Michael Santoli says he saw shades of transition within the new tapering road map that was laid out, as well as the revised unemployment target of 7% versus the prior 6.5%.

"To me it's almost like Bernanke's 'note in the drawer in case I get hit by a bus,'" Santoli says. "We're going to know the plan" before he actually leaves.

Several names other than Yellen's continue to pop up on the short list, including former Treasury secretaries Tim Geithner and Larry Summers, as well as current and prior Fed players such as Roger Ferguson, Alan Blinder and Donald Kohn.

"I am loathe to out-think the consensus that Janet Yellen, the vice chair, has at least got the plurality of probability that she's probably going to be in there," Santoli opines.

Of course, the change of chiefs is ultimately the responsibility of the President, who technically has Bernanke locked in until the end of January 2014 but will likely want to get the Senate confirmation process started this fall.

After all, as Napoleon once said, “Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action comes, stop thinking and go in.”

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