Overview: Mortgage rates were little changed over the past week. Friday’s Employment Report, the one piece of economic news that had a high potential to be market-moving, was roughly neutral.
In April, the economy added 164,000 jobs, below the consensus for an increase of 190,000. However, upward revisions added 30,000 jobs to the results for prior months, bringing the net gains very close to the expected levels. Wages were 2.6% higher than a year ago, the same annual rate of increase as last month, and close to investor expectations.
What stood out the most in the Employment Report was that the unemployment rate dropped from 4.1% to 3.9%, which was below the consensus forecast of 4.0%. This was the lowest level since December 2000. Most of the time, a decline in the unemployment rate is viewed as a sign of strength. That was not really the case this month, however, since there are two factors that influence the results. The unemployment rate measures the percentage of the labor force that is not working. As more people find jobs, the rate goes down. However, those who are leaving the labor force or no longer looking for work also will push the rate lower, and this is what caused most of the decline in April. A smaller labor force is not viewed as positive news for the economy.
Looking ahead, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) will come out on Thursday. CPI is a widely followed monthly inflation report that looks at the price change for goods and services. The Retail Sales report will be released on May 15. Consumer spending accounts for about 70% of economic activity in the U.S., and the retail sales data is a key indicator. The New Residential Construction report (also known as Housing Starts) will come out on May 16.