By Alister Bull
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will miss the annual Jackson Hole monetary policy symposium this year due to a scheduling conflict, skipping the prestigious event for the first time since taking the helm of the central bank in 2006.
The conference, held in late August in the splendor of the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, draws top central bankers from around the world. Bernanke's absence would mark the first time in 25 years that a Fed chairman has not attended.
A Fed spokeswoman, responding to a Reuters enquiry, said the chairman was currently not planning to attend because of a personal scheduling conflict.
Bernanke, and former Fed chair Alan Greenspan, whom he succeeded in 2006, have periodically used the setting to preview important U.S. central bank actions. For instance, Bernanke hinted at the impending launch of a third round of massive bond purchases by the Fed - dubbed QE3 - at the conference last August.
In 2008, the conference effectively became the site of an economic war room as top policymakers huddled to figure out how to tamp down a virulent financial crisis as investment bank Lehman Brothers hurtled toward collapse.
This year's meeting would have been viewed as an excellent opportunity for Bernanke to signal that the central bank might be leaning toward tapering bond purchases, if the economy continues to recover as officials hope.
The Fed is currently buying $85 billion worth of U.S. Treasury and mortgage-backed bonds every month, and is expected to vote to maintain that pace at its upcoming meeting on April 30-May 1.
The Jackson Hole event is the foremost monetary policy conference in the annual global central banking calendar and gathers a who's who of policy thinkers and practitioners.
Started by the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank in 1978, the symposium is held in the park's Jackson Lake lodge, overlooking the majestic Teton mountain range.
(Reporting by Alister Bull; Editing by Tim Ahmann)