The U.S. economy has done a nearly miraculous job of steering clear from the inflation bug, but that will have to change at some point.
Economic growth demands a healthy level of inflation, and the 1.7 percent current rate remains a far cry from the Federal Reserve's desired level of 2.5 percent.
That point could come sooner than many think if the growth in the labor market starts to show pay increases along with the steady increase in job creation.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its July payroll report Friday at 8:30 a.m. EDT.
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Last month saw average hourly wages rise 10 cents an hour to an annual pace of 2.2 percent—modest, no doubt, but by far the biggest one-month increase all year.
Jim Paulsen, chief market strategist at Wells Capital Management, said in an analysis Thursday that the move could be a harbinger of inflation pressures to come.
Since 1982 and now for the fourth recovery in a row, wage inflation has remained dormant "until about the fourth year of the recovery" when it begins to rise. Prior to the 1980s, the pace of wage inflation typically accelerated as soon as a recovery began bringing instantaneous pressure to bear both on monetary policy's exit strategy and on investor inflation expectations. However, since the early-1980s recovery, wages (with either high or low relative unemployment rates) have remained calm once a recovery begins and typically do not begin to accelerate until the year 4 mark of the recovery is reached.
This being the fourth year of the recovery —such as it may be—from the Great Recession, Paulsen wondered whether history might repeat.
Inflationary wage pressure would be just the kind of thing that would give an even harder push to the Fed and its hopes to unwind its $85-billion-a-month bond-buying program.
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Paulsen has been an advocate of tapering the purchases, known as quantitative easing, on belief that the crisis-era policy has outlived its usefulness and is harming market confidence.
Thus far, the thought surrounding the Fed's exit strategy has been primarily focused on the pace of "real growth." However, IF wages rise again tomorrow, might the discussion broaden to include and consider whether inflation risk is starting to materialize?
Markets seemed to have accepted some Fed tapering as inevitable, so long as it is not accompanied by interest rate hikes.
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Paulsen advised watching the wage levels closely to see whether the Fed might be prodded into a more aggressive pullback.
We are not suggesting major inflation is an imminent risk. ... It is not! We are suggesting that IF wage inflation is again surprisingly strong in July, [then] financial market concerns and pressure surrounding Fed policy could change and intensify.
_ By CNBC's Jeff Cox. Follow him
@JeffCoxCNBCcom on Twitter.