(Reuters) -- The Federal Reserve’s recently brightened view that growth in the world’s biggest economy is “solid” and thus capable of withstanding an interest-rate rise this year will be put to the test by U.S. jobs data this week. Ructions over Greece’s new anti-austerity government will also continue to grip markets, and could overshadow economic data in the coming days.
The Federal Reserve last week lifted its assessment of the U.S. expansion to “solid” from “moderate,” with jobs growth now seen as “strong.”
A Reuters poll forecasts U.S. employment data Friday will show about 230,000 jobs were created in January, slowing slightly from 252,000 in December, but still robust.
If confirmed, it would be 12th consecutive month of payroll increases above 200,000, the longest such stretch since a 13-month run in 1994-95. “Interest rates then were 6 percent. It simply isn’t a zero-percent environment at the moment,” said Harm Bandholz, chief U.S. economist at UniCredit.
Weak wage growth has dented some of the optimism created by strong job creation. Average wages fell 0.2 percent in December, the biggest decline in at least eight years, although some economists said that may have been a seasonal fluke, and the consensus is for a 0.3 percent increase in January.
In an encouraging sign, the Employment Cost Index, released Friday, showed labor costs increased by 2.2 percent in the 12 months through December, although still below the 3 percent economists say is needed to bring inflation close to the Fed’s 2 percent target.
Fed officials have indicated that interest rates could rise as soon as June, although futures contracts indicate investors expect a first move in September. The target rate has been close to zero since late 2008.
Fed Chair Janet L. Yellen has repeatedly said the decision will be data-dependent. U.S. economic growth cooled in the fourth quarter of last year, but consumer sentiment hit an 11-year high, data showed Friday.
Institute for Supply Management reports Monday and Wednesday, and consumer-spending data Monday will provide further pointers next week.
In addition to its post-meeting statement last week, the Fed said its assessment of interest rates would also take into account “international developments.”
Bernd Weidensteiner, U.S. economy specialist at Commerzbank, said non-U.S. events would not change the general course of U.S. monetary policy, but could affect the timing. “The U.S. is still a relatively closed economy. The economic cycle is made in America,” he said. “But if, say, something awful happened with Greece, it would affect U.S. markets.”
For the struggling eurozone, December retail sales and Markit’s final purchasing managers’ surveys, or PMIs, will give the latest indications on the economy.
Retail sales, due Wednesday, are seen rising 2 percent year-on-year, reinforcing an improvement in sentiment among consumers and retailers in a European Unon report last week. Manufacturing PMIs Monday and services PMIs Wednesday should confirm the initial view that European firms began this year with a little more bounce than they ended last year.
However, with Greece’s new left-wing government flatly rejecting Friday the expected extension of its bailout program, and Germany saying fresh Greek aid was not on the agenda, economic news may take second place to politics as Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras visits other European leaders.
“It could of course turn out to be a week dominated by politics, with what the new Greek government or Germany has to say,” said James Knightley, senior economist at ING.
Official manufacturing PMIs by China Monday will show how the world’s second-biggest economy started the year, with forecasts pointing to factory growth inching up in January, although the bounce is not expected to last due to unsteady exports and slowing investment.
Elsewhere, the Bank of England is seen keeping interest rates at a record low 0.5 percent Thursday, with markets not anticipating a rise until the fourth quarter, according to a Reuters poll.
By contrast, Australia’s central bank, which meets Tuesday, is seen more as a rate cutter, following the cue of commodity-rich Canada’s unexpected rate reduction last month. However, higher-than-expected core inflation in Australia late last year has led investors to push back expectations for a cut to March, and not at next week’s meeting as some economists had previously expected.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Susan Fenton)