Wage Growth Slows

Although investors had a wide range of major U.S. data and geopolitical events to track this week, the economic news generally did not cause much reaction in mortgage markets. After falling to the lowest levels in over a year, rates ended the week a little higher. 

A slowdown in the pace of wage growth offset stronger than expected job gains in Friday’s key Employment report, and the net impact was small. After rising steadily for the last several months, the upward momentum in annual wage gains unexpectedly reversed in March. Average hourly earnings were just 3.2% higher than a year ago, down from 3.4% last month.

On the other hand, job gains surpassed expectations. Against a consensus forecast of 170,000, the economy added 196,000 jobs in March, and upward revisions added another 14,000 jobs to the results for prior months. Strength was seen in the health care and leisure & hospitality sectors. The unemployment rate remained at 3.8%. 

Another closely watched economic report released this week remained volatile. In February, Retail Sales declined a bit from January, while the consensus was for a modest increase. Recent results have been affected by a number of temporary factors including unusually high stock market volatility, the government shutdown, and delays in tax refunds for many people. 

Looking ahead, Wednesday will be the big day with three closely watched events. First, the next European Central Bank (ECB) meeting will take place. Second, the Consumer Price Index (CPI), a widely followed monthly inflation report that looks at the price change for U.S. goods and services, will be released. Finally, the minutes from the March 20 Fed meeting will come out. These detailed minutes provide additional insight into the debate between Fed officials about future monetary policy and have the potential to move markets. In addition, news about trade negotiations between the U.S. and China or about the British exit (Brexit) from the European Union could affect mortgage rates.