What's happening with interest rates?

When the Federal Reserve will next adjust them -- and how -- has become one of the hottest questions on Wall Street. Speculation among traders ranges from as many as four increases in 2016 to none, with many betting on the latter. Oddsmakers now say the most likely scenario is that the Fed will hike rates just once this year, and not until December.

That's a sharp turnaround from the end of last year. After a hike of 25 basis points in December that lifted short-term rates from almost zero for the first time in seven years, the U.S. central bank indicated interest rates might climb to as much as 1.5% in 2016.

The volatility of financial markets in the first two months of this year, however, have created pressure to act more slowly. A slowdown in China, the world's second-largest economy, has roiled trading; oil prices have dipped as low as $26.21 a barrel before rebounding and some pundits have speculated that the economy may dip into a recession.

"China is undergoing a challenging set of economic transitions," Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard said during a speech in Washington, D.C. on Friday. As a result, she said, its spending has slowed sharply from a three-year average of nearly one-third of global investment, which included about half of worldwide consumption of metals such as iron ore, aluminum and copper.

Commodity exporters and close trading partners in Asia will be most affected by the slowdown, Brainard said, but the changes "will likely ripple through the global economy much more generally," too.

TheStreet Recommends

That was among conditions that prompted the Fed's monetary policy committee left rates unchanged in January; members will provide an update on its more recent assessments of the economy after a two-day meeting in mid-March.

"If the recent financial market developments lead to a sustained tightening of financial conditions, they could signal a slowing in the global economy that could affect growth and inflation" in the U.S., Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer said earlier last week, emphasizing that interest-rate adjustments remain data dependent.

"The world is an uncertain place, sometimes more uncertain than at other times, and all monetary policymakers can really be sure of is that what will happen is often different from what we currently expect," he said.

Fed officials have previously noted strength in the U.S economy, from the housing market to the labor force. Jobs data released in early February indicate the U.S. labor market is growing, although more slowly: Just 151,000 positions were added to payrolls in January, below economists' estimates of about 190,000 and down from December's growth of 262,000.

Want to gauge what the Fed might do for yourself? Following are key dates for the central bank's data releases -- which are posted to its website -- and scheduled meetings and statements for the rest of this year.

  • Feb. 29: New York Fed President William Dudley speaks at a monetary policy forum in Hangzhou.
  • March 1, 10 a.m. ET: Foreign exchange rate data is released.
  • March 2: San Francisco Fed President John Williams speaks at The Bishop Ranch Forum
  • March 2, 2 p.m. ET: Beige Book, which includes anecdotal information on economic conditions from each of the 12 Federal Reserve Banks, is posted.
  • March 3: Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan speaks at the University of Texas Investment Management Co.'s 20th anniversary event.
  • March 4, Noon, CT: Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan speaks at a North Texas Commission event.
  • March 7, 3 p.m. ET: Nationwide consumer credit data is released.
  • March 15-16: Two-day meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee.
  • March 17, 9:15 a.m. ET: Industrial production data is reported.
  • April 26-27: Two-day meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee.
  • June 14-15: Two-day meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee.
  • July 26-27: Two-day meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee.
  • Sept. 20-21: Two-day meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee.
  • Nov. 1-2: Two-day meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee.
  • Dec. 13-14: Two-day meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee.

This article was written by a staff member of TheStreet.