This morning's

employment cost index, or ECI, and weekly

initial jobless claims gave a little kick of optimism to market sentiment for the open.

The ECI actually showed that wage inflation grew slower in the fourth quarter than in the third quarter. Economists were expecting the opposite. The number came in at a 0.8% rise, compared with forecasts for a 1.1% rise and the previous quarter's 0.9% jump. This should calm concerns that strength in inflation might have caused the Fed to be less aggressive about cutting interest rates to bolster economic growth.

New weekly jobless claims came at 316,000, well below expectations of 339,000 and just a bump above the previous week's 306,000. But initial jobless claims is a very volatile number.

Stock futures blipped a bit higher following release of the numbers, pointing to a mixed open for stocks. But the real focus remains on Washington, where

Federal Reserve Chairman

Alan Greenspan will testify this morning before the

Senate Budget Committee

. His speech, ahead of next week's Fed meeting, will be closely analyzed to see what hints investors can pick up about the future direction of interest rates.

TheStreet Recommends

TheStreet.com's

David Gaffen took a look at what today's testimony could

mean for the markets.

Economic Data

8:30 a.m.: Employment Cost Index for Q4 '00. Source: Labor Department. Actual: +0.8%. Forecast: +1.1%. Previous: +0.9%.

8:30 a.m.: Initial Jobless Claims for the week ended Jan. 20. Source: Labor Department. Actual: 316,000. Forecast: 339,000. Previous: 306,000.

Forecasts are from

Reuters

. Times are Eastern. For a longer-term economic calendar and more, see

TheStreet.com's

Economic Databank.