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Why this number is a big deal for the Fed

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
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A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

The employment cost index on Friday could show enough of a pickup in wages to sway the betting on a September Fed rate hike.

The ECI last quarter rose a surprise 0.7 percent, ramping up speculation way back in late April that wage inflation was finally starting to kick in enough to encourage the central bank to move toward normalization.

Since then, however, other data did not come along so much, and widely followed average hourly earnings, included in monthly employment reports, were actually unchanged in June.

The market has been looking for a slightly softer second-quarter gain.

Mesirow Financial's chief economist, Diane Swonk, said that's because the first-quarter ECI was boosted by fees and commissions and some of that is expected to be reduced.

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