Will They or Won't They?

Another month and another strong jobs report.  

Payrolls increased by an impressive 295,000 in February. This follows a healthy 239,000 gain in January and an eye-popping 329,000 surge in December. Continued strong job growth has dropped the official unemployment rate down to 5.5%.  

Way back in early 2014, we opined that 200,000-or-more new jobs per month would be a sign the economy was in full-growth mode. That's been the case. If we go back to January 2014, we see that there has been only one month of sub-200,000 monthly job growth. Business activity has certainly picked up over the past 15 months. (This is key. It's not so much job growth that matters, but business activity that creates value that requires workers to produce.)

With the latest employment report, more economists are talking interest rate hikes. History has shown that when job growth is strong and the unemployment rate is below 6%, odds rise that interest rates will rise. Everyone now is looking to June for the first Federal Reserve federal funds rate hike in eight years. Since December 2008, the Fed's target fed funds rate has been held at zero.

The fed funds rate is a short-term rate. It's the rate banks lend to each other overnight. It does influence longer-term rates, though. In short, the fed funds rate can be viewed as the base rate that determines the level of all other interest rates.

All eyes will be on the Fed FOMC meeting announcement this coming Wednesday. Specifically, market watchers will focus on one word – “patient.” The Fed has leaned on this word over the past six months to divert attention from a fed funds rate increase. Many pundits and commentators believe if “patient” is no longer in the press release, the Fed will raise the fed funds rate in June.

So does this mean mortgage rates are on the rise?

Mortgage rates have been rising since early February. They actually spiked higher on the February jobs report, but they've since drifted lower, and are actually slightly lower than they were this time last week. This isn't all that unusual. There's an old saying in financial circles: “Buy the rumor, sell the news.” This suggests many people were expecting a strong February jobs report, and when they got it, rates moved lower.

Despite another strong jobs report and unemployment at 5.5%, we still don't believe the Fed raising rates in June is a sure thing. There is a chance rates could remain low for longer than many people think.

Information provided by Jessica Regan.

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