The jobs report gives a mixed signal ahead of the Fed’s March decision

But the slowdown in wage growth could be good news for the central bank. Officials are watching the rapid wage gains with nervousness that will make it harder to tame inflation when employers pay more.

That means paying close attention to production workers who aren’t managers — rank-and-file workers, basically — Held up to. Wage data bounces around, and economists often look to this measure to get a clear read of the underlying pace of wage gains.

Priya Misra, head of global rate strategy at TD Securities, said the report had “tossed up” the central bank’s next rate hike. The pace of hiring may signal to officials that the labor market is still hot, but other details may give them some room to wait and see.

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

The upshot is that investors should keep a close eye on the consumer price index report scheduled for release on Tuesday. New data will show just how hot inflation was in February, giving central bankers a final critical read on where the U.S. economy is headed for their conclusion.

“This is a very important CPI report – again,” Ms Mishra said.

Economists polled by Bloomberg expected monthly inflation readings — which show a clear improvement in cooling price increases — to slow overall but hold steady at 0.4 percent after volatile food and fuel prices are stripped out.

One challenge is that the numbers come out during the quiet period before the Fed’s meeting, which lasts all of next week, so the world can’t tell how central bankers interpret the new data.

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Further complicating the picture: flashes of stress tied to the central bank’s rapid rate moves over the past 12 months are emanating from the banking system. Silicon Valley Bank’s lending to tech start-ups faltered on Friday, partly crushed by rising interest rates.

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