Unexpected strength in the labor market was seen last week. The good economic news lifted the Dow stock index to a record level, but it also pushed mortgage rates higher.
Mortgage rates climbed on the days leading up to Friday’s Employment report and rose even higher after the figures were released. Against a consensus forecast of 170K, the economy added 236K jobs in February. The Unemployment Rate declined from 7.9% to 7.7%, the lowest level since December 2008. Average Hourly Earnings, a proxy for wage growth, increased modestly from last month. In short, today’s data exceeded expectations nearly across the board.
The growth in the labor market is a major component of a broader improvement in the US economic outlook. Recent manufacturing, Durable Orders, and Retail Sales reports have also reflected a pickup in economic growth. This has resulted in an increase in Consumer Confidence and Consumer Sentiment, as well as higher stock prices. For the housing sector, the positive economic news increases the ability and the willingness of people to buy homes. The downside is that stronger economic growth generally causes mortgage rates to rise.
The most significant economic data this week will be the monthly inflation reports. The Producer Price Index (PPI) focuses on the increase in prices of “Intermediate” goods used by companies to produce finished products and will come out on Thursday. The Consumer Price Index (CPI), the most closely watched monthly inflation report, will come out on Friday. CPI looks at the price change for those finished goods which are sold to consumers. In addition, Retail Sales will be released on Wednesday. Retail Sales account for about 70% of economic activity. Industrial Production will come out on Friday. Empire State, Consumer Sentiment and Import Prices will round out the schedule. There will be Treasury auctions on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
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