Despite a long career with the Federal Reserve, Juan del Busto has never been one for cryptic pronouncements. And his retirement luncheon as the Fed's top Miami official was no time to start.
Previewing Wednesday's closely watched pronouncement of the Fed's securities-buying panel, del Busto told the crowd of local business executives: "We'll probably extend our buying spree of everything in sight," he said. After some banter with the audience, he added: "You can tell I'm getting braver."
Del Busto, 58, this week wraps up his nine years as head of the Fed's Miami branch, a currency depot that serves all of Florida south of Lake Okeechobee. He had planned to retire in his mid-50s but said superiors asked him stay aboard when the financial crisis hit in 2008.
At the Fed's high-security Doral headquarters, banks turn in worn-out currency and coins for fresh ones. But del Busto's role as the region's top economics reporter gave him a unique window into the region's recession and ongoing recovery.
Each year, del Busto supervised interviews of CEOs from his district's 50 largest companies. That information, along with other economic fact-finding reports, went to headquarters in Atlanta, and helped guide the Fed's decision on when the economy would be strong enough to let interest rates rise again and stop pumping new money into the system.
Del Busto didn't work long enough to see that day. On Wednesday, the Fed is expected to announce (as del Busto predicted) it will keep a key interest rate at zero while creating new money to buy up bonds and securities from banks as a way to spur both lending and spending. It's a strategy del Busto, who got his start as a clerk at the Miami branch in the 1970s, sees as crucial to saving the credit system from an even bigger disaster.
"I think we're doing good work for our nation," del Busto said in an interview after the lunch, one of three he's holding for business contacts he worked with regularly as head of the Miami branch.
He called the contacts a key part of his job, because del Busto is always fishing for candid information on the region's economy. Those anecdotal reports get condensed into the Fed's closely-watched "Beige Book," an account of the nation's economy issued about once every other month. Del Busto had responsibility for writing the section on tourism for the Atlanta branch -- typically a paragraph or two on cruise ships, hotel bookings and foreign visitors.
He said people he encounters are typically too optimistic about the current state of the economy. While real estate is improving and a rebound in auto sales suggests good things to come, the recovery hasn't been enough to give a strong boost to hiring. "I still think unemployment is going to be an issue for a long time," he said. "I was saying that three years ago, and everybody looked at me like I was on Mars."
A graduate of Miami's Coral Park High School with a bachelor's of science from Florida International University, del Busto isn't an economist. He worked his way up through the management ranks at a time when the Miami branch was the country's third largest check-processing facility. He became head of the branch in 2003, as debit cards were diminishing the Fed's check-processing role.
An economist and public-relations officer for the Fed's Atlanta headquarters, Tim Smith, will take del Busto's place as regional director in Miami. Smith told the luncheon: "Juan's been integral in managing the reputation of our bank because he has built such a good reputation for this branch.''
Born in Havana, del Busto came to Miami with his mother and father in 1960. His father worked as a sound engineer in Miami, dubbing movies and television shows from English into Spanish. As a child, del Busto would voice bit parts for young actors -- including in the Spanish version of "I Love Lucy."
Del Busto started at the Fed as a computer operator in 1973, two years after the Fed opened its Miami branch on the same day that Disney World launched in Orlando.
Almost 40 years later, it was del Busto's parents that helped set his departure from the Fed. His father died of a heart attack two weeks after his mother died of cancer. Both were in their late 60s.
"I didn't want to wait to retire,'' del Busto said Tuesday. "I wanted to enjoy myself."
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