By Jonathan Spicer and Ann Saphir

 

NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Janet Yellen cashed in with her first paid visit to Wall Street since stepping down as Federal Reserve chair, discussing rate hikes and U.S. President Donald Trump at events on Monday that included a dinner for 40 at a CEO's Manhattan penthouse.

 

Two people familiar with the events hosted by investment bank Jefferies, including the evening gathering with its chief executive Richard Handler and billionaire investors Carl Icahn and Daniel Loeb, said it was billed as Yellen's first such engagement since leaving the Fed two months ago.

 

In a brief telephone interview, Yellen, who ran the U.S. central bank the last four years, confirmed she was paid and said she revealed no confidential information."I talked about the economy and general perspectives on monetary policy," she told Reuters late on Wednesday, declining to say how much she earned or to provide more details.

 

The program included a question-and-answer session with more than 100 Jefferies clients, where according to a third source she stuck close to the message of three or four interest rate hikes this year that her successor, Jerome Powell, has delivered since taking charge in early February.

 

Later, over the penthouse dinner of lobster, beef short ribs and matzo in the trendy Tribeca neighborhood, Yellen held court with executives from hedge funds, private equity firms and companies, according to two people briefed on the gathering.

She spoke about her meetings with Trump including last year's job interview about staying on for another term as Fed chair, and expressed some concern that the stimulus from tax cuts and government spending could overheat the economy, one of the sources said.

The second source said she considered inflation to be in check and unlikely to spike, so rates would stay relatively low.

The open bar and discussions with big investors ran past sunset, until the college basketball final between Villanova and Michigan tipped off on television.

Rob Citrone, head of the multi billion-dollar hedge fund firm Discovery Capital Management, was among those at the large rectangular dining table, according to the second source. Representatives for Discovery, Icahn Enterprises and for Loeb, who runs Third Point, did not comment or respond to a request.

Cashing in after years in public service is a well-trodden path for U.S. policymakers and regulators, highlighting the demand among investors for any exclusive insights they can offer.

In the case of former Fed chiefs, who can earn an annual salary in one night and have no constraints on expressing their views provided they do not broach confidential matters, those insights could potentially move markets.

Yellen's predecessor Ben Bernanke waited just over a month after leaving the Fed in 2014 before earning some $250,000 for a private talk in Abu Dhabi. He followed that up with similarly priced private dinners with investors in New York, at which he predicted rates would remain low for a long time.

Former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan waited only a week after stepping down before addressing a private dinner in 2006 hosted by Lehman Brothers, the investment bank whose collapse two years later sent the global financial crisis into high gear.

'AN AMAZING EVENING'

Under Yellen, who earned just more than $200,000 per year as chair, the Fed finally turned the corner from its crisis-era policies of near-zero interest rates and trillions of dollars of bond-buying.

At the Monday dinner, investors asked her repeatedly about the Fed's more than $4 trillion in bond holdings and the pace of coming rate hikes, though Yellen was careful not to appear to speak for Powell, according to one of the people who spoke to Reuters. When asked about Trump, she said there was no pressure or interference on monetary policy from the White House.

In tapping Powell, a Republican, Trump broke with a non-partisan precedent last year in denying Yellen, a Democrat, a second four-year term as Fed chief.

Larry Hatheway, who as a former UBS official helped host Greenspan at a paid event last decade, said attendees "hope to hear an unconstrained view on things that matter related to the former job, (and) that matter for market participants."

"The biggest beneficiary is probably the speaker ... who is obviously rewarded fairly handsomely, and to some extent the organizers who are then seen in a better light by their clients," added Hatheway, who is now group head of investment solutions at GAM Investment Management, in Zurich.

Reuters was not able to reach David Zervos, the Jefferies Group LLC [JGLL.UL] chief strategist who conducted the larger forum for investors and who later tweeted a link to a photograph of himself with a smiling Yellen on Instagram. "An amazing evening last night hosting Janet Yellen for our clients in NY," read the tweet, posted Tuesday.

The third meeting on Monday was with a group of women at Jefferies at which Yellen discussed being a female leader, said one of the people familiar with the program.

All three sources who spoke to Reuters requested anonymity.

The Fed raised rates last month at its first meeting under Powell, and forecasts showed policymakers were split between three or four total hikes this year as economic growth and inflation were seen rising.

Yellen joined the Brookings Institution think tank immediately after stepping down and spoke publicly there in February about the economy. Last month she discussed her Fed tenure at the University of Pennsylvania.

In recent months she was listed as a speaker-for-hire by the Washington Speakers Bureau, which did not respond to a request for comment.

Her profile page, alongside that of Bernanke and Greenspan, says she travels from Washington and fees vary based on event location.

(Additional reporting by Suzanne Barlyn, Lawrence Delevingne and Sinead Carew in New York; editing by David Gregorio and Chizu Nomiyama)