Last week's economic reports included job openings, retail sales, retail sales except automotive, consumer sentiment for March and the usual reports on weekly jobless claims and mortgage rates.
Job Openings Highest in 14 Years
The Labor Department reported that job openings reached their highest level in 14 years in January, and rose by 2.50 percent over December 2014 job openings. On a seasonally adjusted basis, there were five million job openings in January. Job openings rose by 28 percent year-over-year.
Hiring rose by 3.50 percent to 5.24 million, but analysts said that employers continue to have difficulty in finding workers with skills needed to fill their job openings. Winter weather was also mentioned as contributing to lower hiring rates.
Stable full-time employment is a key requirement for qualifying for a home loan. Inconsistent, part-time and self-employment typically make it more difficult to qualify for mortgages in today's conservative lending environment.
Retail Sales Lower
Retail sales fell by –0.60 percent in February against an expected reading of +0.30 percent and January's reading of -0.80 percent. This was the third consecutive drop in retail sales volume and suggests that consumers are not confident about spending. Retail sales except automotive were also lower with a February reading of -0.10 percent against an expected reading of +0.40 percent and January's reading of -1.10 percent.
Mortgage Rates Rise, Weekly Jobless Claims Fall
According to Freddie Mac average mortgage rates rose across the board with the rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage at 3.86 percent, an increase of 11 basis points. The average rate for a 15-year mortgage rose by seven basis points to 3.10 percent. The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage rose five basis points to 3.01 percent. Discount points were unchanged at 0.60 percent for fixed rate mortgages and 0.50 percent for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage.
Weekly jobless claims fell to 389,000 against expectations of 310,000 new jobless claims filed and the prior week's reading of 325,000 new claims filed. This was good news after a spike in new jobless claims that was likely caused by bad weather. Although week to week data tends to be more volatile than month-to-month trends, there was good news in that new jobless claims fell below a benchmark of 300,000 new claims filed. Readings of 300,000 or fewer new jobless claims filed represent strong labor market conditions.
This week's economic reports include the NAHB Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, federal reports on housing starts and building permits and the Federal Reserve's FOMC meeting statement. Fed Chair Janet Yellen is scheduled to present a press conference, which analysts will watch closely for any indication of when the Fed will raise interest rates.