Coronavirus could cancel central bankers' Jackson Hole conference

Jackson Lake Lodge in Wyoming is not expected to operate this year because of COVID-19

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For the first time in nearly 40 years, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City may not hold its annual global central bankers’ conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, after the historic lodge where the gathering usually takes place said it was unlikely to open for the 2020 season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are considering the implications of this announcement for our annual Economic Symposium and will communicate additional details when they are available,” the Kansas City Fed said in an emailed statement.

The symposium has been held in Jackson Hole since 1982, when organizers went in search of a location that would appeal to a highly coveted guest who would draw a big crowd: then Fed Chairman Paul Volcker.

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The sign reads "howdy stranger yonder is Jackson Hole, last of the old west" on top of Teton Pass Wyoming.

Volcker, who died in December, was known to be a fan of fly fishing. That sent Tom Davis, then the head of research for the Kansas City Fed, in search of a prime location for trout fishing, according to the regional bank’s archives. A contact in Colorado pointed him to Jackson Hole.

The plan worked. Volcker attended - and fished. And the symposium, which had previously focused on agriculture and was held at different locations within the Kansas City Fed district, became the go-to annual gathering of some of the biggest names in central banking.

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Especially since the 2007-2009 financial crisis, Fed chairs have used their keynote speaking appointment at the conference - typically held in late August - to signal important shifts in monetary policy or the economic outlook.

But in addition to high-brow debates over interest rates, inflation, and other tenets of monetary policy, economists and other conference attendees would meet to hike, fish and dine while taking in sweeping views of Jackson Lake and the Grand Teton Mountains that flank the resort.

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The Jackson Lake Lodge, which is usually open from May until October, is not expected to operate this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to an update posted on the Grand Teton Lodge Company’s website. All existing reservations will be canceled, the company, which operates the hotel, said.

It was not clear if the Kansas City Fed would seek another location or move to a virtual conference due to virus, which has sparked a steep drop off in travel and restrictions against large gatherings.

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