U.S. jobs to add heat to Fed lift-off debate
By Philip Blenkinsop
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The state of the U.S. labor market in March will consume economists and investors in the week leading up to Easter, adding to the seesaw debate over when the Federal Reserve will spring its first interest rate hike.
Fed Chair Janet Yellen made it clear on Friday that the U.S. central bank is likely to start raising borrowing costs later this year, adding that continued improvement of the labor market would be an important factor in deciding when to move.
Labor market data are therefore likely to be the highlight of the economic week, providing a further signal to the Fed on the health of the U.S. economy and its capacity to withstand rate rises.
The ADP National Employment Report, which focuses only on the private sector and is due on Wednesday, may provide a foretaste of the big event -- non-farm payroll numbers on Friday.
Economists polled by Reuters are forecasting a healthy 244,000 rise in non-farm payrolls in March. If confirmed, it would be the 13th straight month of job gains of over 200,000, matching a run in 1994-95.
In the post-war period only the runs of 14 months in 1976-77 and 15 in 1983-84 have been higher.
Yellen said a significant pickup in core inflation was not a precondition for the Fed to pull the trigger on rates. Nevertheless, inflation remains stubbornly low, although consumer prices did rebound in February as the cost of gasoline rose.
For many economists the focus on Friday is less the jobs figures than average earnings, which are seen picking up after a muted 3 cent per hour rise in February. Continued...