Initial Claims for Unemployment Insurance in Sharpest Jump since Last September

By Mark Lieberman

Managing Director and Senior Economist

Highlights

  • There were 242,000 1st time claims for unemployment insurance for the week ended March 31 an INCREASE of 24,000 from the prior week;
  • The number of initial claims for the week ended March 24 was REVISED UP 3,000 to 218,000;
  • The four-week moving average of first time claims ROSE 3,000 to 228,250;
  • Four week moving average represented 0.147 percent of employment, UP from 0.145 the previous week;
  • The number of continued claims –individuals who have been collecting unemployment insurance — reported on a one-week lag, was 1,808,000 for the week ended March 24, DOWN 64,000 from the previous week’s UPWARDLY REVISED 1,872,000;
  • The four-week moving average of continued claims DECLINED 13,500 to 1,848,250;

Data Source: Department of Labor 

Trends:

  • The increase in the number of initial claims for unemployment insurance was the largest since the hurricane-inflated 62,000 for the week ended last September 2;
  • The number of first time claims for unemployment insurance was below 250,000 for the 12th straight week.
  • Continued claims for unemployment insurance dropped to the lowest level since December 29, 1973 when it was 1,805,000.

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Initial unemployment insurance claims put their downward drift on hold with a relatively sharp increase of 24,000 for the last week of March. The jump though did not come in the survey week used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the monthly Employment Situation report. Survey week data showed an increase in initial claims of 7,000, a modest rise (except for the individuals who were forced to apply for benefits).

The calendar and freak Spring snows may have affected the numbers reported Thursday. Filings for unemployment insurance frequently follow the weather with temporary closings due to storms so the unusually large increase should be no cause for alarm…. unless it continues. That total first-time claims have been under 250,000 for 24 of the last 26 weeks says a lot about the state of the labor.

Tomorrow’s BLS report is not expected to be as robust as the report for February which showed an increase of 313,000 jobs. Indeed, the consensus among economist is for an increase of 195,000 jobs. That job growth has been solid – a monthly average of 191,000 – without any significant movement in earnings remains an enigma, but data in last month’s BLS report suggested almost everyone who entered the labor force in February found a job meaning there may be no need to hike wages to fill open job slots.

The consensus forecast is for a slight drop in the unemployment rate, to 4.0 percent – the lowest since December 2000 — from 4.1 percent where it has been stuck for five months.

You can hear Mark Lieberman every Friday at 6:20 am on the Morning Briefing on P.O.T.U.S. radio @sxmpotus, Sirius-XM 124. (Tomorrow, Friday April 6 at 8:45 am EDT, he will discuss the Employment Situation report for March which will be released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics at 8:30 am

Hold on For a Bumpy Ride Dow as Unemployment Claims Remain Low

 By Mark Lieberman

Managing Director and Senior Economist

Highlights

  • There were 229,000 1st time claims for unemployment insurance for the week ended March 17 an INCREASE of 3,000 from the prior week;
  • The number of initial claims for the week ended March 10 was UNCHANGED at 223,000;
  • The four-week moving average of first time claims ROSE 2,250 to 223,750;
  • Four week moving average represented 0.144 percent of employment, UP from 0.143 the previous week;
  • The number of continued claims –individuals who have been collecting unemployment insurance — reported on a one-week lag, for the week ended March 10 was 1,828,000, DOWN 57,000 from the previous week’s UPWARDLY REVISED 1,885,000;
  • The four-week moving average of continued claims DECLINED 11,750 to 1,880,500;

Data Source: Department of Labor 

Trends:

  • The number of continued claims for unemployment insurance dropped to its lowest level since December 29, 1973 (1,805,000)
  • The moving four-week moving average of continued claims fell to its lowest level since January 5, 1974 when it was 1,838,500.

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How low can claims for unemployment insurance go…and what do we do when there are no more individuals unemployed? Those questions may not be academic but could have serious economic ramifications. For one thing, low unemployment could freeze businesses where they are with no new enterprises starting and no expansion of existing firms.

For another, it could mean a sharp competition for workers which, in a perfect world, would drive wage rates up.

But as wages increase so will prices with no appreciable increase in the standard of living unless productivity increases as well.

Those may not be pleasant problems to have which goes to explaining the actions of the Federal Open Market Committee in boosting interest rates one day before the unemployment claims report was issued.

The ride up may be as bumpy as the ride down was.

You can hear Mark Lieberman every Friday at 6:20 am on the Morning Briefing on P.O.T.U.S. radio @sxmpotus, Sirius-XM 124. You can follow him on Twitter at @foxeconomics.

Job Openings Ratio at Record Low in January As Job Openings Surge

 By Mark Lieberman

Managing Director and Senior Economist

Highlights:

  • Job openings at the end of January ROSE to their highest level ever, 6.3 million an 11.4 percent increase;
  • The number of hires in January ROSE as well, up 1.1 percent to 5.6 million;
  • The ratio of unemployed to job opening DROPPED in January to1.06 to one, the lowest ratio since the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey began in December 2001;

Trends:

  • The job openings rate – job openings divided by the sum of job opening plus employment – ROSE to 4.1 in January, the second consecutive drop;
  • The hires rate – the number of hires divided by hires plus employment – was essentially FLAT in December at 3.8.
  • Not surprisingly, unemployment in the wholesale and retail trade sector ROSE by more in January – post holiday shopping – than any other industry sector

Data Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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That the January JOLTS (Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey) showed a record number of job openings, it followed that the jobs report for February showed payrolls grew 313,000.

The number of openings rose most sharply in the “other services” and Information sectors, two sectors which saw unemployment grow, though they did not lead in unemployment growth.

In those sectors – and three others – the number of unemployed exceeds the number of job openings suggesting either cutbacks were too harsh or individuals who had been employed in those sectors should into remain unemployed for long.

On the flip side, according to the JOLTS data, there are 10 individuals unemployed in the professional and business services sector for every available job.

Other “tight” or competitive sectors are wholesale and retail trade (5.8 unemployed for every available job) and construction (4.4 unemployed persons for each job opening.

The JOLTS report fills in the lines of the painting of a tight labor market.

You can hear Mark Lieberman on P.O.T.U.S Morning Briefing (Sirius 124) every Friday at 6:20 am Eastern Time. Follow him on Twitter at @foxeconomics.

Housing Construction Slips in February: Permits and Starts Both Fall

By Mark Lieberman

Managing Director and Senior Economist

Highlights

  • The rate of housing permit filings in February FELL 5.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 1.298 million units;
  • The rate of permits for single-family home permits in February EDGED DOWN 0.6 percent to an SAAR of 872,000 units;
  • The rate of permits for multi-family homes FELL 14.0 percent in February to 426,000 units (SAAR);
  • The rate of all housing starts FELL 7.0 percent in February to an SAAR of 1.24 million;
  • Single-family starts ROSE 2.9 percent to an SAAR of 902,000 while multi-family starts DROPPED 26.1 percent to an SAAR of 334,000;
  • The rate of home completions in February INCREASED 7.8 percent from January with single-family completions IMPROVING 3.0 percent and multi-family homes INCREASING 19.4 percent

Trends:

  • The February report on housing permits would have been worse had it not been for downward revisions to January;
  • The seasonally adjusted annual rate of permits dropped below 1.3 million for the first time since September (five months);
  • The percentage decline in multi-family starts was the steepest in 15 months (November 2016);
  • Single-family homes accounted for 73 percent of all starts, the highest share since last August (six months);
  • Builders completed single-family homes at the SAAR of 869,000 in January compared with a sales pace of 595,000. The “gap” between completions and sales –276,000 more completions than sales is the second widest since June 2010 when there were 379,000 more completions than sales; last July the pace of completion exceeded the sales pace by 280,000

Data Source: Census Bureau and Department of Housing and Urban Development 

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Despite the largest month-month increase in construction jobs in 11 years, residential construction activity fell broadly in February. Of the 61,000 construction jobs added in February 25,000 were residential construction jobs, the largest month-month increase in over a year (January 2017 saw 26,000 new residential construction jobs.

But those jobs may be fleeting as home-building activity all but dried up in February. The silver lining in the cloud could be that inventories may drop leaving builders with fewer homes they must “carry.”

Indeed, the number of new homes for sale in February 301,000 (computing to a 6.1-month supply) was the most since March 2009 (311,000). Inventory is a two-edged sword as higher inventories offer prospective buyers more choice but at the same time can drain builder cash reserves

Adding to builder concerns, the Housing Market Index produced monthly by the National Association of Home Builders slipped for the third straight month at the beginning of March (though it remains at a relatively high 10) and was led down by the measure of “buyer traffic” families “kicking tires” as they consider buying.

But if those window shoppers don’t buy, 2018 could be rough year for builders.

Hear Mark Lieberman every Friday at 6:20 am on POTUS Morning Briefing, Sirius-XM 124. You can follow him on Twitter at @foxeconomics.

1st Time Unemployment Claims, Continued Claims Remain Low

By Mark Lieberman

Managing Director and Senior Economist

Highlights

  • There were 226,000 1st time claims for unemployment insurance for the week ended March 10 a DECREASE of 4,000 from the prior week;
  • The number of initial claims for the week ended March 3 was REVISED DOWN 1,000 to 230,000
  • The four-week moving average of first time claims FELL 750 to 221,500;
  • Four week moving average represented 0.143 percent of employment, UNCHANGED from the previous week;
  • The number of continued claims –individuals who have been collecting unemployment insurance — reported on a one-week lag, for the week ended March 3 was 1,879,000, UP 4,000 from the previous week’s UPWARDLY REVISED 1,875,000;
  • The four-week moving average of continued claims DECLINED 17,250 to 1,890,750;

Data Source: Department of Labor 

Trends:

  • The number of continued claims for unemployment insurance has been below 2,000,000 for almost a year (48 weeks since last April 1) underscoring the tightening labor picture by shrinking unemployment rolls;
  • The moving four-week moving average of initial claims has been below 300,000 for even longer: since March 2015.

 

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Even with occasional blips up, the weekly report on unemployment insurance claims – both first-time and continued – reflects the labor market with fewer and fewer employers laying off workers and more and more dipping into the ranks of the unemployed to add to (or restore) staff.

All of this makes for a head scratcher for the Federal Open Market Committee which meets next Tuesday and Wednesday to consider interest rates. Only one outcome is certain: the FOMC is not going to lower rates but is poised for yet another increase in the benchmark Federal Funds rate in an effort to slow what may be an overheating economy.

The Fed’s own industrial production and capacity indices are at or near record high levels while the capacity utilization rate – not at record levels – is at the highest levels since the end of the Recession. ‘

Both suggest an economic conundrum which could be solved with market expansion which Congress tried to do with its tax cut. The expansion of overseas demand though may be choked off by responses to the imposition of higher tariffs on imported goods. Retaliation by trading partners would choke off increased demand overseas.

You can hear Mark Lieberman every Friday at 6:20 am on the Morning Briefing on P.O.T.U.S. radio @sxmpotus, Sirius-XM 124. You can follow him on Twitter at @foxeconomics.

Economy Adds 313k Jobs in February; Strongest Growth Since October 2016; Unemployment Rate remains 4.1%;

Highlights

  • Number of payroll jobs INCREASED 313,000 in February more than double the 154,000 growth in the working age population; Largest jobs gain in 19 months;
  • Prior month job totals REVISED UP net 54,000: UP 36,000 in January to a revised growth of 239,000 jobs (from 200,000) and UP 15,000 in December to a gain of 175,000 (from the last report of a 160,000 increase);
  • Average weekly earnings ROSE $4.06 to $922.88, a 3.1 percent year-year gain UP from December’s 2.7 percent year-year growth;
  • Unemployment rate in February remained at 4.1 percent;
  • Average hourly earnings GREW 4¢, in February a 2.5 percent increase after a 2.7 percent year-year boost in January;
  • Average weekly hours ROSE1 hours in February, to 34.5, reversing a decline in
  • Labor force – GREW 806,000 to 161.9 million as the number of persons NOT in the labor force DROPPED 653,000; labor force Participation rate increase 0.3 percentage points to 63.0 percent, back to where it was last September;
  • Employment-Population ratio also INCREASED 0.3 percentage points to 60,4 percent, matching last
  • Number of construction jobs INCREASED 61,000, with 25,000 new residential construction jobs;
  • Retail sector added 50,300 jobs – largest one-month increase in two years
  • Number of Leisure-hospitality jobs each INCREASED 16,000 in February including 11,500 food service slots;
  • Only industry sector to lose jobs was Information –which includes broadcasting and movie production – which shed 12,000 jobs (including a decline of 9,700 motion picture related jobs;

Trends:

  • The 3.1 percent (year-year) increase in average weekly earnings was the strongest since August 2010 (3.4 percent)
  • Three-month average increase in payroll jobs – 242,000 –was the strongest since June-July-August 2016, 262,000;
  • Number of new entrants to the labor force (as unemployed) was 704,000 in February, most since last April, 707,000
  • Unemployment rate has been at 4.1 percent for the last five months (since October)
  • Gain in construction jobs – 61,000 – was the largest one-month increase since March 2007 – 80,000 jobs;
  • Monthly increase in labor force was largest in more than three years (January 2015); the month-month decline in the number of persons not in the labor force was the largest in 10 years (January 2008, down 6784,000)
  • Unemployment rate for Blacks dropped back to 6.9 percent in February just above the record low of 6.8 percent recorded in December (rate had increased to 7.7 percent in January);

Data Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Perhaps the only bit of “bad” news from the February Employment Situation report is what it will lead to: a faster pace of increases to the target fed funds rate as government by the Federal Open Mark Committee.

Just about every statistical category in the report contained good news, unless you work in the movies, publishing or broadcasting as the information sector showed a 0.4 percent drop in jobs.

But with average weekly hours recovering from a January dip senind average weekly earnings up, the Trump Administration’s economic plan seems to be firing on all cylinders.

Indeed, even the tax code changes may have provided a boost as retail employment rose with the strongest gain in two years.

But all those gains could prove to be illusory.

Middle-class taxpayers could still see their tax bills rise in April 2019 when the full extent of the new tax law kicks in with the elimination of prized tax deductions. The impact of loss those deductions – particularly for state and local taxes — could be magnified as the report indicated government payrolls increased by 26,000 – even accounting for a 7,000 drop in the federal civilian jobs. Local governments added 30,000 jobs and state governments 2,000 – all paid for by state and local taxes.

Perhaps the biggest “downer” of the report was that the strong employment growth was not accompanied by an uptick in wages growth. The month-month increase in average weekly earnings was due not to an increase in wages, but an increase in the average workweek which fell in January due to the weather.

As has been the case the reason for slower growth in earnings in February was the low paying occupations – retail and leisure-hospitality – represented about one of every six new jobs. Higher paying occupations such as utilities (weekly earnings of $1,551.72), mining/logging ($1,302.46), information ($1,121.61) and construction ($1,091.66) accounted for almost the same share of new jobs, so the impact of the better paying jobs was effectively wiped out by the jobs with lower earnings.

Hear Mark Lieberman every Friday morning at 6:20 am on The Morning Briefing on POTUS on Sirius-XM 124. You can follow Mark Lieberman on Twitter at @foxeconomics.

1st Time Unemployment Claims Hit Near 50-Year Low

 By Mark Lieberman

Managing Director and Senior Economist

Highlights

  • There were 210,000 1st time claims for unemployment insurance for the week ended February 24 a DECREASE of 10,000 from the prior week;
  • The number of initial claims for the week ended February 17 was REVISED DOWN 2,000 to 220,000
  • The four-week moving average of first time claims FELL 5,000 to 220,500;
  • Four week moving average represented 0.143 percent of employment, DOWN from 0.146 percent one week earlier;
  • The number of continued claims –individuals who have been collecting unemployment insurance — reported on a one-week lag, for the week ended February 17 was 1,931,000, UP 57,000 from the previous week’s DOWNWARDLY REVISED 1,874,000;
  • The four-week moving average of continuing claims DECLINED 6,250 to 1,920,000;

Data Source: Department of Labor

Trends:

  • The number of initial claims for unemployment insurance dropped to its lowest level since the week ended December 6, 1969 (202,000);
  • The four-week moving average of 1st time claims fell to its lowest level since the period ended December 27, 1969 (219,750);
  • From mid-January to mid-February, initial claims rose 4,000 but the four-week moving average of initial claims fell 18,000;
  • Continued claims have declined 9,000 mid-month to mid-month while the four-week moving average of ongoing claims dropped 750.

 

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The drop in initial claims from mid-January to mid-February reflects fewer layoffs as employers are reluctant to reduce staffing even with a pool of workers available. Whether this is because of a skills mismatch or fears of an impending cyclical change in the economy is difficult to determine.

Of course, one other explanation for the drop in first-time claims could be the Presidents’ Day holiday when offices which would process claims filed by phone or online were closed.

Last month’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation report showed a drop in the average workweek to 34.3 hours, the lowest since last March. The drop in weekly hours was one of the few blemishes in the BLS report for January.

You can hear Mark Lieberman every Friday at 6:20 am on the Morning Briefing on P.O.T.U.S. radio @sxmpotus, Sirius-XM 124. You can follow him on Twitter at @foxeconomics.

Pending Home Sales Index Plunges in January

Mark Lieberman

Managing Director and Senior Economist

Highlights:

  • National Association of Realtors’ January Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) fell 4.7 percent from December to 104.6;
  • PHSI for December was revised down from 110.1 to 109.8;
  • December drop was the first since September;
  • Year-year the index was DOWN 1.7 percentage points;

Trends:

  • The December decline was the steepest since the PHSI fell 7.7 percentage points in April 2011;
  • The Index reading is the lowest since January 2015 when the index was at 104.5;
  • Index fell most sharply, 11.8 percentage points, in the Northeast to 87.0. the weakest reading on the region since 81.9 in March 2015.

Data Source: National Association of Realtors (NAR) 

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Just as the new tax law discouraged prospective buyers of new homes, it dropped the hammer on sales of existing single-family homes in January as the National Association of Realtors’ Pending Home sales index which tracks sales contracts of existing homes.

Part of the reason for the decline in the PHSI could be the long decline in the number of homes for sale. According to a separate NAR report on closings, fell from 1.68 million at the beginning of 2017 to 1.46 million in December, a 13 percent drop. (The number of homes for sale increased to 1.52 million in January, still down 9.5 percent in the last year.)

On a year-year comparison basis, the number of homes for sale has fallen for each of the last 32 months.

The decline in home sales left some observers scratching their heads noting the economy appears to be strong with the number of jobs continuing to grow and the unemployment rate continuing to fall.

Earnings growth has not kept pace with job growth however which may be holding some potential home buyers back and builders, despite their growing confidence, have been increasingly focused on multi-family rather than single-family construction.

The NAR index is based on a large national sample, typically representing about 20 percent of transactions for existing-home sales. According to the NAR, the level of monthly sales-contract activity parallels the level of closed existing-home sales in the following two months. The January PHSI thus suggests another drop in closings in March.

Existing home sales, closings, fell 3.2 percent in January following a 2.8 percent decline in December.

The fall-off in contracts for existing homes paralleled the 7.8 percent decline in new home sales (contracts) in January which came on the heels of a 7.6 percent decline in December.

Muddying the waters, the new Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell hinted in Congressional testimony earlier in the week the Federal Open Market Committee may increase interest rates four times this year, not the three increases which had been expected. While the fed funds rate which the FOMC sets is not tied directly to mortgage rates, it does influence them.

The FOMC next meets March 20-21.

Hear Mark Lieberman every Friday at 6:20 am on POTUS Morning Briefing, Sirius-XM 124. You can follow Mark Lieberman on Twitter at @foxeconomics.

Case Shiller Home Price Index Continued Climbing in December but Could be Peaking

By Mark Lieberman

Managing Director and Senior Economist

Highlights:

  • Case Shiller CoreLogic national Home Price Index IMPROVED in December for the 23rd straight month, increasing 0.2 percent to 196.23;
  • The 10- and 20-city indices each GREW for the 14th straight month; each rose 0.17 percent, the 10-city average to 218.41 and the 20-city average to 204.45;
  • 10- and 20-city year-year index growth was weakest since November 2016;
  • Index ROSE in 13 of the 20 cities surveyed in December;
  • Year-year prices were UP in all 20 cities but the year-year increase slowed in ten cities.

Trends:

  • Index values ROSE in Dallas for the 47th straight month; in Denver values have increased for 24 consecutive months and in both Las Vegas and Los Angeles up for 14 straight months.
  • Values FELL in Chicago and Minnesota for the fourth month in a row and in Boston for the third straight month.

Data Source: S&P Case Schiller/Core Logic

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Home values, measured by the Case Shiller Core Logic Home Price Index continue to rise but how high will they go before dropping? Such a question was once more academic than real but then came 2006 when values in both the 10-city and 20-city indices began to fall. The decline was slow at first but seemed to resemble a cascading snowball until hitting bottom three years later.

The national Case Shiller Index has recovered from its fall and indeed the national index has surpassed its historic high, reached in June 2006, while the 10- and 20-city measures are still trying.

Whether they will make it could be in doubt. The 10-city index is 3.5 percent its 226.29 high and the 20-city index is short of its 206.52 high by just 1.0 percent.

The threat, of course, comes from changes to the tax code which capped some of the tax advantages to homeownership.

We’ve seen both the measures of new and existing home sales fall even before the new tax code took effect

The signs for the overall index are ominous.

Prices fell in December in two regions the county, the Northeast and the Midwest and were up only 0.1 percent in the South. Prices rose 0.5 percent in the West. Eight of the 20 cities in the Case-Shiller survey are in the West, led by Las Vegas and Los Angeles where prices rose 0.8 percent and 0.7 percent respectively in December.

According to the National Association of Realtors, the median price of an existing single-family home fell $700 or 0.3 percent in December. The median price of an existing single-family home in the Northeast dropped $11,700 or 4.3 percent, fell $2,800 or 1.4 percent in the Midwest and dropped $500 or 0.1 percent in the West. The median price of an existing single-family home rose $2,300 or 1.1 percent in the South in December according to the NAR.

Prices nationally fell sharply in January according to the NAR which could mean a drop in the Case-Shiller Index.

Hear Mark Lieberman this Friday on P.O.T.U.S. radio’s Morning Briefing, Sirius-XM 124, at 6:20 am Eastern Time. You can follow Mark Lieberman on Twitter at @foxeconomics.

New Home Sales Plunge in January

By Mark Lieberman

Managing Director and Senior Economist

Highlights:

  • Pace of contracts for new home sales FELL 7.8 percent in January to 593,000 (seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate);
  • Unsold inventory ROSE 2.4 percent or 7,000 to 301,000
  • Median price of a new home DROPPED $13,700 from December to $323,000;
  • Year-year the median price of a new home was up $25,000 (2.5 percent)

Trends:

  • The pace of sales has fallen 14.4 percent ((percentage) in the last two months, steepest two-month decline since summer 2013;
  • The SAAR of new home sales has fallen month-month in five of the last seven months, but remains up year-year;
  • The inventory of unsold homes is at its highest level since March 2009 (311,000) the depth of the Great Recession;
  • The increase in the inventory of unsold homes rose for the was the steepest one-month climb since April 2006;
  • The dollar drop in the median price of a new single-family home was the largest in a year.

Data Source: Census Bureau and Department of Housing and Urban Development

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Despite continued confidence among builders, the sales pace of new single-family homes dropped again in February, by more than seven percent for the second straight month.

The decline in new home sales – contracts for new homes—may well have been expected as consumers, staggering under debt from holiday shopping might have been reluctant to take on new obligations. Indeed, contracts for the purchase of new homes have declined in six of the last 10 January reports.

This year may have been different because this was the first January in more than 30 years to be affected by a new tax law. And, the law which was signed by President Trump last December caps mortgage interest and property tax deductions reducing some of the tax benefits of homeownership. And, with the Federal Reserve keeping a watchful eye on payroll data, there is a strong likelihood the Federal Reserve will raise the benchmark fed funds rate when it meets next month to try to slow the economy before it gets too hot,

While the fed funds rate is not tied directly to mortgage rates, it does influence the cost of a home loan, more the updraft

The recent boot in jobs has not been accompanied by an increase in wages though take-home pay began to go up in February

The HUD-Census report o new home sales followed the report last week by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) that existing home sales fell in January for the second straight month. The NAR report covered closings of transactions entered into in November or December.

Hear Mark Lieberman on P.O.T.U.S. (Sirius-XM 124) Friday at 6:20 am Eastern Time. You can follow Mark Lieberman on Twitter at @foxeconomics.