Janet Yellen has a really valuable stamp collection, and other highlights of Fed disclosures

August 27, 2013

What have you done for me philately?  (Federal Reserve/Flickr)

The Federal Reserve has released financial disclosure forms of the seven governors who run it. In general, there is nothing shocking: All of the governors have substantial assets and income, about what we'd expect of middle-aged men and women who have had successful careers in finance or academia. Each appears to have a net worth in the millions of dollars. But here are some of the more surprising details in the fine print.

The textbook business can be very very lucrative. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is co-author (from before he was in government) of "Principles of Economics" and "Principles of Macroeconomics" (written with Robert Frank, published by McGraw-Hill) and "Macroeconomics" (with Andrew B. Abel and Dean Croushore, from Pearson). It appears that the McGraw-Hill books are more lucrative, generating $100,000 to $1 million in income for the chairman, who also made $50,000 to $100,000 from Pearson.

Other economics books, not so much. Contrast that, for example, with income that Berkeley economist George Akerlof, the husband of vice chairwoman Janet Yellen, apparently earned from his books for Princeton University Press. "Animal Spirits" (2009) and "Identity Economics" (2011) together generated between $5,000 and $15,000 in royalties for the Akerlof-Yellen family, which is good for serious nonfiction books several years after their release, but pales in comparison to what Bernanke is making in the textbook business.

But that's okay, because Yellen has plenty of stamp wealth. Yellen and Akerlof have a stamp collection worth between $15,000 and $50,000. It has apparently been in the family for quite some time; a 1997 article in The Washington Post about Clinton administration officials' assets, based on their financial disclosure forms at that time, said that Yellen inherited a stamp collection with that same valuation range from her mother.

Elizabeth Duke's family did well with Apple stock. Apple has been a popular stock among individual investors, and the husband of Elizabeth Duke, a former banker who is stepping down as a Fed governor this month, was one of them. He had a pretty good record of selling high and buying low! On March 19, 2012, he sold between $100,000 and $250,000 of the stock, a day when it closed at about $606 a share. He bought between $50,000 and $100,000 worth less than two months later, on May 3, on a day when it traded for around $582. Then he sold again on Sept. 21, on a day when the shares traded for more than $700 a share. He then bought again on Nov. 19, a day when shares were around $566, and sold again two days later. Fed governors are allowed to own shares of individual companies so long as they are not financial companies regulated by the central bank.

Update: The item about about Apple stock above was originally written as if Governor Duke was the one who enacted the transaction. Her disclosure form indicates that it was in fact her spouse who carried out the transactions. The post has been changed to make clear that he was the one buying and selling Apple stock.

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Brad Plumer · August 27, 2013