Federal Reserve officials left interest rates unchanged this week and signaled that their next move is likely to be a cut — but they also suggested that they are in no hurry to make that change. Friday’s jobs data is likely to reinforce their cautious stance.
Employers hired much more rapidly than expected in January, and average hourly earnings climbed 4.5 percent over the year, the fastest pace since September and a reversal after months of cooling.
Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, made it clear during his news conference on Wednesday that the central bank is not bent on keeping interest rates high just to slow down the labor market, but the report suggested that the economy might not be cooling quite as much as policymakers had expected.
Given that continued strength, the Fed is unlikely to feel pressure to cut interest rates at its next meeting on March 19-20. Policymakers do not want to hold borrowing costs too high for too long and risk a painful recession, but the data suggests that a possible downturn remains very much at bay. Instead of faltering, the job market is booming.
The central bank’s policy rate is now set to 5.25 to 5.5 percent, a level high enough that economists think it will cool the economy as it trickles through financial markets and weighs on mortgage, credit card and business borrowing.
The Fed’s goal in trying to cool the economy is to rein in inflation, and price increases have been receding: Over the past six months, inflation data have been close to normal.