Industry executives and analysts who have been holding their breath for the Federal Reserve to begin raising interest rates haven’t exhaled yet. The Fed opted in September to delay that long-anticipated move, as concerns about the international financial climate – weakness in the Chinese and European economies in particular – trumped concerns that keeping the Fed Funds rate at zero for too long risks igniting inflationary pressures.
Will they or won’t they? No one, possibly including Fed officials themselves, knows for certain whether the Fed will increase interest rates in September. The consensus had been leaning very much in that direction until China’s weakening economy, and the ham-handed governmental efforts to bolster it, roiled international financial markets, sending stock markets on a stomach-churning roller-coaster ride, with no clear indication of when and where — up, down, down a lot, somewhere in between — the ride will end.
When will the Federal Reserve raise interest rates? Analysts, business executives and consumers have been asking that question with increasing intensity for the past two years. The July employment report may have brought the Fed closer to answering it.
After triggering a bad case of economic jitters in May, the employment report brought a measure of relief in June as employers added 287,000 workers to their payrolls. That stronger—than-expected performance, following a dismal increase of only 38,000 workers in May, tempered fears that the economy might be losing ground, but left uncertain the timing of the interest rate increase the Federal Reserve has been eyeing, but deferring, for most of this year.
Is home ownership dead? Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies provoked that question with a report analyzing the continuing decline in the nation’s home ownership rate. The analysis, in the Center’s annual “State of the Nation’s Housing” report, identified several factors responsible for the downward ownership trend, and concluded that it’s not going to be reversed any time soon.
As summer settles in, chasing lingering memories of record-setting snowfalls and damaging ice dams, all eyes remain focused firmly on the employment reports and on the Federal Reserve’s reaction to them.
We’ll talk about the employment report a little later (it was better than pessimistic analysts expected) but just for fun, let’s start with the housing data, only because it continues to bewitch, bother and bewilder analysts trying to interpret it. The March reports were no exception.
The big news this month was the labor market report, and the news was very good. Employers added 257,000 jobs in January — a little below the sizzling pace registered in November and December. The totals for both months were revised upward, adding nearly 150,000 jobs to their totals. Bottom line: The economy produced nearly one million jobs in the final quarter of last year, representing the best three-month performance since 1997. Employment gains for the year were higher than in any year since 1999.
The year began with a strong jolt of positive news: Employers added 252,000 jobs in December, beating estimates, and the unemployment rate declined to 5.6 percent, its lowest level since June, 2008. But wages declined for the first time in more than a year and the labor participation rate slumped, as well, casting a “yes-but” shadow over the otherwise encouraging report, and leading some analysts to predict that the Federal Reserve will delay its plans to begin raising interest rates – this despite a robust third quarter rate of economic growth (5 percent) that was the fastest in more than a decade.
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