The Labor Department's February employment report is likely to indicate that a lot more Americans are finding jobs in the world's largest economy, but markets may be more sensitive to the pace of wages for people already in work for the next leg up in the global rally.
Non-farm payrolls are expected to have increased by around 190,000 last month, according to the broad consensus on Wall Street, taking that headline unemployment rate down to 4.7%. With Fed Funds futures pricing in an 88.6% chance of a rate hike next week, and private-sector data from ADP hinting at solid jobs growth, Friday's release will have to miss expectations by significantly wide mark in order to topple interest rate expectations.
In that respect, what the Labor Department says about wage growth -- and what it likely reveals about confidence in a consumer driven economy -- could be more import for near-term market moves.
Analysts are anticipating that real (inflation-adjusted) wages grew 2.8% from February 2015 after a 2.5% advance in January that missed the consensus forecast and was the weakest in ten months even as the economy added 227,000 new jobs.
ING economists are looking for 2.9% hourly wage growth for February, thanks to minimum wage increases, and argue that "the US has virtually hit full employment and that's really starting to drive up pay."
If that proves true, and, more importantly, marks a change in wage dynamics that continues throughout the year, it will have major implications for consumer spending, inflation and the pace and timing of Fed rate hikes.