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Fed Under Less Pressure to Speed Up Rate Hikes

The Federal Reserve policymakers may feel less pressure to speed up the pace of their policy tightening this month after data showed wage gains slowed in February. The news has rekindled hopes that inflation will ease as the pandemic-disrupted labor market normalizes.

FED building
FED building

Data Supports Sticking to a Quarter-Point Increase

The Fed may stick to a quarter-point interest-rate increase at its March 21-22 meeting due to the recent closure of Silicon Valley Bank and the central bankers' wariness of causing more strain on the banking sector with sharper rate hikes.

Consumer Price Index Decider

To be published next Tuesday, the widely watched consumer price index could still push Fed Chair Jerome Powell and colleagues to deliver a 50-basis-point increase at their March 21-22 policy-setting meeting, which would put the benchmark rate at 5.00%-5.25%.

Inflation Prints and Bank Stress

"We would not get too relaxed about 50," said Evercore ISI's Krishna Guha. "We roll on to the inflation prints next week that could now be the decider, along with whether bank stress calms quickly."

February Unemployment and Wages

The U.S. unemployment rate ticked to 3.6% in February as more workers entered the labor force, and average hourly earnings growth slowed to 0.2% from 0.3% in January. The month's payroll gains of 311,000 exceeded expectations, but hiring was concentrated in a narrower range of industries. The slowdown in wages was seen across a broad range of jobs, indicating that the extremely tight labor market is set to ease.