Jobs Friday clashes with March Fed meeting

March 08 05:24 2016

It’s Jobs Friday. That means the monthly Wall Street guessing game, “Will they or won’t they hike?” will kick off after the federal government lets the world know how many jobs the American economy created in February. The “they” is the Federal Reserve. The U.S. central bank, which hiked short-term interest rates off 0% for the first time in a decade back in December, meets March 15 to discuss interest rate policy.

While the Fed was hoping to continue hiking rates this year, it opted to keep rates unchanged at their last meeting in January. Since then, however, market turbulence, still-weak inflation readings and slowing global growth prompted the Fed to hint that they may have to dial back their rate-hike plans. At the same time, U.S. data have continued to come in strong, putting more emphasis on the February jobs number.

The Wall Street forecast is for 195,000 new jobs last month, up from 151,000 in January. The report is not expected to persuade a wary Federal Reserve to raise interest rates in March. But investors remain on guard for any surprises from the Fed.

“If we got a number above 250,000 or 275,000, the market would start to get a bit more nervous. But I doubt the Fed would move, being the meeting is so close,” said Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Boston Private Wealth. “Now, if there was some ridiculous number like 350,000 or 400,000, then the possibility begins to become more real. As far as putting the Fed on hold all year? A low print such as 15,000 or 25,000 may do it, but that’s (not) likely.”