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April 08, 2024 – With the jobs report coming in stronger than expected for the third month in a row, a soft landing in 2024 is looking more and more likely for the economy. A decent growth rate in economic activity, however, is also keeping inflation elevated and delaying the Federal Reserve’s rate-cut movements. As such, Wall Street has adjusted its expectations on the number of cuts accordingly, which might have resulted in the most recent rate increases. Despite the change in expectations, futures contracts continue to point to a 50-75 basis-point (bps) decline in policy rate this year, which is consistent with what C.A.R. projected in its latest forecast.

Another strong report for the job market in March: Hiring at the end of the first quarter came in much stronger than expected again, with nonfarm payrolls adding a seasonally adjusted 303k jobs in March. The gain last month easily topped consensus expectations of 200k. The health care sector remained strong with an employment gain of 72k in March, followed by government (71k), leisure and hospitality (49k), and construction (39k). The unemployment rate slipped down to 3.8% as a result of strong jobs growth, despite a tick-up in labor supply. The labor force participation rate rose 0.2% to 62.7% in March, reaching a four-month high. Wage growth was mostly in line with Wall Street estimates, with average hourly earnings rising 0.3% month-over-month, but slowing to a nearly three-year low of 4.1% year-over-year. The latest jobs report continued to suggest that the labor market remained solid, which might have provided more reasons for the Fed to stick with its wait-and-see approach to cuts.

Futures point to doubts over Fed’s rate cut plans: The strong jobs report released last week casts doubts on whether the Fed can keep rate cuts on track this year. At the end of 2023, Wall Street was expecting the central bank to cut rates by 100 bps to 150 bps in 2024. Reports have shown that the economy is more resilient than previously thought and economists have adjusted their expectations downward since then. More investors are now speculating that the Fed may cut its policy rate just once or twice before the end of the year. Futures contracts tied to the federal-funds rate, indeed, indicate that the benchmark rate will finish the year around 4.75%, well below the 4% suggested by those contracts earlier this year. With March’s consumer price index scheduled to be released later this week, the market will hopefully get some assurance that the cool-down in inflation remains intact, and the Fed is still on course to cut rates later this year.   

Home purchase sentiment dips for the first time in four months: Home Purchase Sentiment released by Fannie Mae had its first decline since November 2023, as consumers lowered their expectation in the latest mortgage rate outlook. Twenty-nine percent of the survey respondents in March believed that rates will go down over the next 12 months, a sizable drop from 35% recorded in February. The share of consumers who said it would be easy to get a home mortgage today also declined 4 percentage points to 42% last month. Strong jobs report and concerns about inflation remaining sticky were likely the reasons behind the increased pessimism in rates movement and mortgage eligibility. Despite the drop in optimism towards rates, consumers continued to feel more positive about the current housing market conditions. Those who said it was a good time to buy rose 2 percentage points to 21% and those who said it was a good time to sell inched up 1 percentage points to 66%. Both measures have increased multiple months in a row, which is an encouraging sign for the spring home buying season.

Consumers provide mixed signals about inflation expectation and labor market outlook: Consumers expectations on inflation a year from now remained unchanged in March, increased at the medium-term horizon, and decreased at the longer-term horizon, according to the latest New York Fed’s Survey of Consumer Expectations. At the one-year horizon, the median inflation expectation registered at 3% last month, flat from what have been reported in the past three months, but much lower than the 4.7% recorded in March 2023. On the other hand, consumers were more cautious about the medium-term price growth than in February, as they adjusted their median three-year ahead inflation expectations upward to 2.9% from 2.7%. Consumers were more optimistic about the longer-term horizon though, as they expected the five-year ahead inflation to be at 2.6%, a decline from 2.9% from the prior month. Meanwhile, those who believed that they will lose their job in the next 12 months rose 1.2 percentage point to 15.7%, the highest reading since September 2020. Consumers’ expectation on their earnings growth, on the other hand, remained unchanged for the second consecutive month at 2.9% in March.

Homeowners concern about impact of weather on insurance premiums: A study conducted by Fannie Mae indicates that consumers are concerned about how weather-related events could have an impact on their homes and their insurance premiums. At the regional level, those who live in the West are most concerned about extreme heat (27%), drought (24%), and wildfires (22%). Many homeowner correspondents are worried because of the resulting expenses. Two-thirds of homeowners, in fact, said that weather-related damage has had an impact on their insurance premiums. Among homeowners who have homeowner’s insurance, nearly one out of ten were unsure if they would be able to afford their premiums at the next renewal date. The level of concern varies between ethnic groups, with Black (14%), Hispanic (13%), and Asian (15%) expressing more concerns about their inability to pay their renewal premiums than White homeowners (8%). 

Note: The weekly market minute report is updated every Monday by 6:00 PM PST.

Weekly Data for Week Ending 2024-04-06

 


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