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5 Things to Watch at the Kansas City Fed's Jackson Hole Conference

Central bankers and economists from around the world are in Jackson Hole, Wyo., for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s annual economic symposium. When they’re not fly fishing or hiking in the mountains, attendees of the late-summer gathering will discuss the behavior of inflation and its implications for monetary policy. Other topics,not on the official agenda, are sure to come up in conversation. For one, what does the recent turmoil in financial markets mean for the global economy? For another, will the Fed raise short-term interest rates at its Sept. 16-17 policy meeting? And where’s Janet? Here are five things to watch at the gathering, which runs Thursday night through Saturday.

#1: Focus on Fischer

Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen is skipping the conference, so those watching for signals about the likely timing of a Fed rate increase will focus on Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer. Mr. Fischer, the former governor of the Bank of Israel, is set to speak Saturday on a panel about inflation. He could offer important clues about the Fed’s thinking; the central bank has said officials want to be “reasonably confident” inflation will return to their 2% annual target before raising interest rates that have remained near zero since December 2008.

#2: Sideline Speakers

Other Fed policy makers will be in Jackson Hole and conducting interviews on the sidelines of the conference. Those remarks will help shed light on the current state of debate within the central bank, after the last few weeks saw China devalue its currency, oil prices slide and turmoil mount in global markets.

#3: Is the World Ready?

Though long-telegraphed, the U.S. central bank’s move to raise rates has the potential to make an already difficult landscape for emerging-market economies even more treacherous. The international-heavy lineup of speakers in Jackson Hole includes Reserve Bank of India Gov. Raghuram Rajan, Central Bank of Chile Gov. Rodrigo Vergara, Bank of England Gov. Mark Carney, European Central Bank Vice President Vitor Constancio and Swiss National Bank Chairman Thomas Jordan.

#4: Inflation Puzzle

The topic of this year’s conference is “Inflation Dynamics and Monetary Policy,” and that will be the focus of the research presentations and panel discussions scheduled for Friday and Saturday. Inflation has been stubbornly subdued in recent years across many advanced economies — including the U.S., where a substantial decline in unemployment has generated little upward movement in wage and price growth.

#5: Critics on Both Sides

It’s not just central-bank insiders in Wyoming for the weekend: Activists on both the left and the right are trying to influence the conversation by holding their own events. The conservative American Principles Project is holding a summit on “Central Banks: The Problem or the Solution?” The liberal Fed Up Coalition, which showed up at last year’s Fed gathering, is back to hold teach-ins on topics including “Do Black Lives Matter to the Fed?” and “Who’s Afraid of High Wages? A History of the Inflation Bogeyman.”