Saturday, November 18, 2023 / by Richard Eimers
The latest labor-market report closes out a week of good news for mortgage rates.
The October jobs report shows slower-than-expected growth in the labor market, which has already pushed interest rates down and driven mortgage rates down to 7.36%, their lowest level since mid-September.
This labor-market report closes out a week that has already brought a few pieces of good news for mortgage rates: The quarterly treasury refunding announcement regarding less issuance of 10 year treasuries than expected and the Fed’s confirmation that they’re holding rates steady sent daily average mortgage rates from 8% down to 7.5% in the last week, and now they’ve come down further.
The numbers point to a cooling job market. In October, 150,000 jobs were created nationwide, fewer than the 180,000 expected. But the auto strikes subtracted 33,000 jobs, so this report would be right on target without the strike effect; if the strike ends next month, 33,000 jobs could be added. The U.S. unemployment rate increased to 3.9% from 3.8% a month earlier, a slight uptick from expectations of holding steady at 3.8%. Average hourly earnings rose 0.2% month over month, a slightly smaller increase than the 0.3% expectation. Finally, the report shows a downward revision from the last few months’ hotter-than-expected jobs reports: 101,000 fewer jobs were created in August and September than previously thought.
Zooming out, this report shows that the labor market and economy are softening very slowly. It’s just one month of data, which is difficult to extrapolate from–but it definitely points in the direction of a cooling economy, which has been the Fed’s goal with its interest-rate hikes. It points away from inflation re-accelerating or getting out of control, but given the special factors affecting October (e.g., strikes), the path to the Fed’s target is likely still bumpy. Notably, one rule of thumb that economists use to predict recessions (the Sahm rule) says that when the 3-month moving average of the unemployment rate increases by 0.5 percentage points in 12 months, a recession will follow. That was 3.5% from January to May 2023 and is now at 3.8%, so we are getting closer, but still not in a place where we should expect a recession. A recession would likely bring mortgage rates down considerably, helping more buyers afford homes–but it would also remove some people from the homeownership path if they lose their jobs.
The odds of the Fed hiking rates in December is falling below 5% but there is still inflation data on the horizon. Investors are betting this puts the nail in the coffin on another interest-rate hike this year, with futures markets currently pricing in a 4.5% probability of a hike in the next meeting. Based on this data alone, that seems fair, but fresh CPI data will be released on November 14. The Fed has a dual mandate to keep both inflation and unemployment low and they’ve made it clear that inflation takes priority right now.
This is bringing some relief for homebuyers. House hunters who were scared of 8% mortgage rates can breathe a small sigh of relief, as this has brought rates down considerably, to an average of 7.36%–at least temporarily. Buyers may choose to jump in quickly and lock in a rate before they potentially go back up. But it’s also possible mortgage rates will fall more, so locking a rate in with a float-down option could be a smart choice for serious buyers. Rates could keep coming down or this trend could reverse; we need to see what the next few weeks bring.