Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium Explained
Every August, the Federal Reserve holds a small and exclusive gathering of the world’s leading economists, financial experts, and policymakers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Even though only around 120 people attend every year, the publicly-released papers and speeches along with media engagements by policymakers have turned the symposium into a landmark event for Fed waters and investors.
What Is the Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium?
The Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium is an annual symposium held in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. Each year, the symposium covers a different important economic issue that faces the global economy to foster open discussion about current policy matters.
Participants include prominent central bankers and finance ministers, as well as academic leaders and principal financial market players from around the world.
The symposium proceedings are closely followed by market participants, as any unexpected remarks coming from the leaders at the symposium have the potential to impact global stock and currency markets.
Why Jackson Hole, Wyoming?
The Federal Reserve’s outpost in Kansas City originally held the event, beginning in 1978, as a forum to discuss agricultural trade. Over the years, the Kansas City Fed made efforts to broaden the scope to wider policy matters.
In 1982, the Kansas City Fed looked for another venue that would tempt Fed Chair Paul Volcker out of Washington, D.C. They originally planned on hosting in Colorado because they knew Volcker was a big fan of fly fishing, but the timing of August led them to pick a location further north, finally landing on Jackson Hole. They succeeded as Volcker attended, bringing the symposium to a larger stage.
Since 1982, the event has been held in Wyoming, except for the 2020 and 2021 conferences being held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What Happens at the Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium?
The event is held late August every year and typically lasts three days, beginning with a dinner on Thursday. A speech from the sitting Fed chair kicks off the event the next morning, followed by more speeches and panel discussions.
This event is completely separate from the Fed’s eight, pre-scheduled policy-setting meetings where the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) votes to change interest rate or balance sheet policies in response to economic conditions. But, due to the heightened attention of the event, Fed chairs have used speeches at Jackson Hole to provide an update on economic conditions and signal impending policy shifts.
Every year, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas selects a specific relevant topic for the event and chooses a pool of attendees based on that chosen topic. These experts write and present research related to the topic. The Kansas City Fed posts the papers online, along with full transcripts from the event for anyone to read.
Who Attends the Jackson Hole Symposium?
In addition to US Federal Reserve leaders, the heads of major central banks such as the Bank of Japan, the European Central Bank, and the Bank of England attend annually to cultivate discussions between economic leaders from all over the globe.
Additional symposium participants include academics, finance ministers, and financial market participants from around the world.
Why is the Jackson Hole Symposium Important?
The main objective of the Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium is to create a platform for open discussion of current economic issues. Participants come to discuss economic issues, implications, and policy options pertaining to the topic of that year’s conference (examples of past years’ topics are included below).
The Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium is one of the longest-running economic forums and has a history of signaling policy shifts, developing new economic ideas, and bringing together experts from around the world. Since 1982, 70 countries have been represented at Jackson Hole.
Markets tend to be very sensitive to the communication coming out of Jackson Hole every August. For example, in 1997, then-Fed Chair Alan Greenspan made a brief comment on Mexico while discussing the Asian financial crisis which caused the Mexican stock market to tumble on fears the Fed chair was signaling a spillover in the global financial system. The Fed had to clarify he was referring to the Mexican peso crisis of 1994 in order to correct the markets.
The symposium is closely watched because it has tended to set the agenda for monetary policy in the current environment. Two previous Fed Chairs, Ben Bernanke and Alan Greenspan, used Jackson Hole to signal major policy shifts. The conference has also launched the careers of many economists.
About the 2022 Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium
The 2022 Jackson Hole Economic Symposium will be the first in-person gathering of the event since 2019 and marks 45 years of the event. Running from August 25-27, the event will kick off with a speech by Fed Chair Jerome Powell.
The theme of the 2022 symposium is Reassessing Constraints on the Economy and Policy. This theme is meant to explore the emergence of economic constraints during the pandemic and how supply chain issues have reemerged. Shortages have limited global economic supply even as demand surges, resulting in an imbalance that has raised inflation globally.
Some believe Powell will use the opportunity to double down on the central bank’s recent hawkish positioning with the Fed raising interest rates by 75 basis points in its last two monthly meetings. On the other hand, some think he could use the event to clarify the Fed’s position as Wall Street suffers from recent volatility after the rally born from better-than-expected inflation readings in July.
Wall Street debate recently has revolved around whether the rate hike will be by 50 or 75 basis points at the next FOMC meeting in September following their traditional summer break in August.
Powell’s remarks along with media coverage of papers and speeches coming from the event will act as a good barometer of the state of the US economy as well as the world. This is especially helpful now when market volatility has been high, flip-flopping almost daily between a glass half-full, half-empty analysis.
Past Topics at the Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium
The annual Jackson Hole conference topic choice is made to foster discussion regarding relevant economic issues with consideration for diversity in region, background, and industry. Past topics of consideration at the conference include: Implications of Monetary Policy (2020), Challenges for Monetary Policy (2019), and Fostering a Dynamic Global Economy (2017).
2018: Changing Market Structures and Implications for Monetary Policy
With the rise of tech giants like Meta (formerly Facebook), Amazon, Apple, and Google, what has the impact been on the broader economy? Have these tech giants amassed too much market power? Or could they? Do antitrust authorities need to take firmer action?
This topic brought forth a number of discussion themes including the increase in market concentration for mostly technology companies, the increased importance of intangible capital such as intellectual property or software, and the rise of e-commerce and their competition with brick-and-mortar stores.
2016: Designing Resilient Monetary Policy Frameworks for the Future
The 2016 symposium focused on two key challenges facing central bankers at the time: persistent low nominal interest rates and how monetary policy should be implemented in a low-rate environment. Speakers at this symposium addressed what these challenges mean for the future of central banks’ balance sheets and how central banks can adopt a monetary policy framework that can weather future shocks and lower-bound constraints on nominal interest rates.
While the traditional tactic of cutting interest rates to reduce borrowing costs was widely used, many central banks also took the more unconventional approach of beefing up their balance sheets by acquiring financial assets, such as sovereign, agency, and corporate bonds, and in some instances, stocks, in large quantities.
1984: Price Stability and Public Policy
A major and ongoing consideration for central bankers is trying to stay ahead of inflation by setting interest rates to prevent rapid price increases. The 1984 symposium focused on topics such as the causes of inflation, the benefits of price stability, tradeoffs between unemployment and inflation, and monetary strategy with an elastic price standard.
The 1970s and 1980s were a time of persistently high inflation and typical responses to inflation were not bringing the rate of inflation down enough to be thought as consistent with the national goal of reasonable price stability. In turn, a major public policy issue at the time was how to consolidate and extend past gains against inflation, while maintaining sustainable economic growth and financial stability.
The current Fed leadership in the US has undertaken an aggressive rate hiking campaign, lifting interest rates by 225 basis points since March 2022 in an attempt to tame inflation. Investors will look to Jackson Hole to understand how the Fed will act in the coming months and years.
While the Fed will likely not speak directly on what to expect at its next meeting in September, speeches tend to be a good barometer for the Fed’s overall plans. The question of how much further to raise rates to keep reigning in prices without tipping the economy into a recession will be on the minds of all participants and spectators.
All speeches, panels, and publications will be posted to the Kansas City Fed’s website here. The full history of the Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium is detailed in the book In Late August, which is available for free to download here.
This material is provided for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice and should not be relied on to form the basis of an investment decision.