Regardless of what Friday's jobs report shows, analysts say the Federal Reserve is intent on raising interest rates next week.
The highly anticipated employment report is due for release Friday morning. The consensus forecast of analysts polled by Reuters estimates a rise of 190,000 nonfarm payrolls in February, down from 227,000 in January. The unemployment rate is expected to edge down from 4.8 percent to 4.7 percent, while average hourly earnings are forecast to increase 0.3 percent from the prior month.
"It's going to be hard for this report to be a negative in terms of rate hikes," said Diane Swonk of DS Economics. She estimates a hiring freeze in the federal government will take about 10,000 from the total as no replacements come in for retiring workers.
That puts her estimate on the low end at 160,000 jobs, still enough for the Fed to raise rates in March. "What's important to remember is the threshold is very low for the Fed," she said. "That is something we have to get used to."
Fed Chair Janet Yellen noted last week that net new monthly jobs are well above the longer-run trend in labor force growth between 75,000 and 125,000. As a result, Yellen said, the labor market is in the range of the Fed's employment goal and policymakers consider "it appropriate to move toward a neutral policy stance."
The Federal Open Market Committee meets next Tuesday and Wednesday, and is expected to raise rates for the third time in just about a decade. Traders are now focused on whether the Fed will signal a faster pace of tightening.
Paul Christopher, head global market strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute, expects the two rate hikes this year, below the consensus for three.