Jobs Report Gives Fed a Mixed Signal Ahead of Its March Decision

But the slowdown in wage growth could be good news for the central bank. Officials have been nervously eyeing rapid wage gains, fretting that it will be difficult for inflation to cool when employers are paying more and trying to make up for those climbing labor bills by passing the costs along to consumers.

That said, a closely watched measure of wages for production workers who are not managers — rank-and-file employees, basically — held up. Wage data bounce around, and economists often watch that measure for a clearer reading of underlying momentum in pay gains.

Priya Misra, head of global rates strategy at TD Securities, said she thought the report made the size of the Fed’s next rate move a “tossup.” The pace of hiring is likely to suggest to officials that the labor market is still hot, but the other details could give them some room to watch and wait.

“It’s not an obvious slam dunk for 50,” Ms. Misra said, referring to a half-point move.

The upshot, she said, is that investors will need to closely watch the Consumer Price Index report that is scheduled for release on Tuesday. The fresh figures will show how hot inflation was running in February, giving central bankers a final critical reading on where the American economy stands heading into their decision.

“It makes this the most important C.P.I. report — again,” Ms. Misra said.

Economists in a Bloomberg survey expect monthly inflation readings — which give a clearer sense of iterative progress on cooling price increases — to slow on an overall basis, but to hold steady at 0.4 percent after volatile food and fuel prices are stripped out.

One challenge is that the numbers will come out during the Fed’s pre-meeting quiet period, which is in place all of next week, so central bankers will not be able to tell the world how they are interpreting the new data.

Further complicating the picture: Glimmers of stress are surfacing in the banking system, ones that are tied to the Fed’s rapid rate moves over the past 12 months. Silicon Valley Bank, which lent to tech start-ups and failed on Friday, was squeezed partly by the jump in interest rates.

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