Monthly Archives: March 2014

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week – March 31, 2014

What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week March 31,2014

Last week’s economic news includes several reports about housing markets.

The S&P Case-Shiller 10 and 20 city housing market indices, the FHFA House Price Index, New Home Sales and Pending Home sales reports suggest that the national housing market continues to grow, but at lower rates.

Regional readings varied and suggested that winter weather was a negative influence on affected markets.

In a press conference held on March 19 Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said that severe winter weather had interfered with the Fed’s ability to get a clear reading on economic developments.

The Case-Shiller 10 and 20-City Home Price Indices for January showed year-over-year growth of 13.50 and 13.20 percent respectively. The 20-City Home Price Index reported that 12 of 20 cities reported slower rates of home price appreciation.

The 10-City Index ticked upward, but was little changed. The 20-City index posted its third consecutive month-to-month decline in home prices with a reading of -0.10 percent.

Las Vegas, Nevada led cities posting gains with a month-to-month reading of +1.10 percent, but home values remain 45 percent below peak prices achieved in August 2006.

David M. Blitzer, chair of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, noted that home prices were up 23 percent over their lows in 2012.

FHFA Data Reflects Slower Growth in Home Prices

The FHFA House Price Index reports home price trends for sales of homes with mortgages owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. January’s data reported a year-over-year gain of 7.40 percent, which is approximately 8.0 percent below its peak in April 2007.

Month-to-month home prices varied within the nine U.S. Census regions and ranged from -0.30 percent to +1.30 percent.

FHFA reported that year-over-year, all nine regions reported gains in home prices that ranged from +3.20 percent in the Middle Atlantic region to 14.0 percent home price growth in the Pacific region.

New and Pending Home Sales Slow

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, February sales of new homes matched projections at 440,000 as compared to January’s revised reading of 455,000 new homes sold, which was a year-over-year high.

New home sales improved by 37 percent in the Midwest, but fell in the Northeast, South and West. This suggests that while winter weather played a role, but that housing markets are cooling in general.

Rising mortgage rates and concerns over new lending standards likely contributed to the drop in sales.

Pending home sales slumped in February according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

February’s index reading of 93.9 as compared to January’ index reading of 94.7 represented the eighth consecutive monthly drop for pending home sales and was the lowest reading since October 2011.

Pending home sales indicate future completed sales. Lawrence Yun, the NAR’s chief economist, noted that home sales delayed by winter weather may be completed this spring.

Mortgage Rates Rise, Jobless Claims Lower Than Predicted

Freddie Mac reported that average mortgage rates rose across the board last week with the rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage rising eight basis points to 4.40 percent. 15-year fixed mortgage rates rose 10 basis points to 3.42 percent.

Average rates for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage rose from 3.02 percent to 3.08 percent.

Discount points for fixed rate mortgages were unchanged at 0.60 percent and ticked upward from 0.40 to 0.50 percent for 5/1 adjustable rate mortgages.

What’s Coming Up This Week

This week’s scheduled economic news includes Construction Spending for March,  ADP payrolls for March along with Freddie Mac’s PMMS weekly report on mortgage rates and the BLS Non-Farm Payrolls report. 

Get Your Lawn Ready For Spring

Get Your Lawn Ready For SpringIf you live in a climate where your yard has been hibernating for months, then you’re probably ready for warmer weather and a hint of green outside your kitchen window.

So, in preparation for children running on lush grass through spritzing sprinklers, use the five tips below to get your lawn ready for spring. It will reward you with picnic perfect grass all summer long.

1. Clean Up Winter’s Clutter

Take a rake and remove all of the dead leaves and debris left over from the winter months. Leaving a layer of last-year’s foliage on the ground can smother your grass and hinder your lawn’s growth.

Once your yard is clear, spread a thin layer of compost to enrich your soil and provide nutrients for when you grass is ready to sprout.

2. Aerate Your Yard

Compacted soil makes it hard for roots to grow and water to drain and distribute throughout your yard. So rent an aerator. It uses steel tubes to take plugs from your lawn. These holes will allow air and water to penetrate your soil, which will create healthier and lusher grass. 

3. Check Your Soil’s PH

Most grass and plants grow best when your soil’s pH level is between 6.0 and 7.0. Some plants like a little bit more acidic soil, such as hydrangeas and azaleas. Plants grown in soil with their proper pH level are healthier and more resistant to disease. You can buy soil test kits at local garden centers.

4. Prevent Weeds From Growing

Once you’ve aerated and only if you’re not planning to plant new grass seed, then distribute a chemical weed preventer, which can be found at any home improvement store. When watered, it creates a barrier on the soil to keep weeds from sprouting. 

5. Have Your Lawn Mower Inspected

Your lawn mower has been sitting idle all winter, so give it a tune-up before those first blades of grass get too long. Take it into a local service shop to have the carburetor and fuel lines cleaned and the blades sharpened. This will make it run more efficiently and put out a little less pollution. 

Even if you live in a warm climate and your flowers have been blooming all year, spring is the perfect time to do an annual assessment of your yard.

S & P Case-Shiller Shows Home Prices Down For Third Consecutive Month

S & P Case-Shiller Shows Home Prices Down For Third Consecutive MonthHarsh winter weather conditions contributed to home prices falling in January. The S&P Case-Shiller 20-City composite index reported that home prices dropped by 0.10 percent in January, but after seasonal adjustments, home prices increased by 0.80 percent in January as compared to December. 12 of 20 cities posted declines in home prices in January.

There’s no cause for alarm, as year-over-year home prices increased by 13.20 percent as compared to year-over –year readings of 13.40 percent in December and 13.70 percent in November. David Blitzer, chair of the S&P Dow Jones index committee, said “The housing market is showing signs of moving forward with more normal price increases.” Home prices remain about 20 percent below a peak reached in 2006.

Housing Markets Face Challenges

Analysts expect home prices to grow at a slower pace in 2014. Factors impacting home prices include higher mortgage rates that make homes less affordable, new mortgage rules that may affect some homebuyers’ ability to qualify for a mortgage.

A shortage of available homes overshadowed housing market growth in 2013; there just weren’t enough homes available to meet demand in some areas.  The Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) noted in its statement last week that it was difficult to determine the exact scope of winter weather on recent economic reports.

Regional Markets Show Discrepancies In Recovery

The S & P Case-Shiller 10 and 20-city home price index reports shed light on a “patchwork quilt” housing recovery. While some areas have seen a higher than average rate of year-over-year home price growth, other areas are underperforming.

Here is a sampling of Case-Shiller’s January data throughout the U.S:

Las Vegas, Nevada                             +24.90 percent

San Francisco, California                     +23.10 percent

Chicago, Illinois                                 +10.80 percent

Washington, D.C.                              +9.20 percent

New York, New York                           +6.70 percent

Cleveland, Ohio                                 + 4.00 percent

 The S & P Case Shiller 10 and 20 city home price indices posted year-over-year gains of 13.50 and 13.20 percent respectively.

 FHFA Data Shows Similar Trend

The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, released its House Price Index (HPI) for January with similar results for homes mortgaged or backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The House Price Index indicated that home prices rose by a seasonally-adjusted rate of 0.50 percent from December to January. According to the FHFA HPI, home prices increased by 7.40 percent year-over-year.

January’s HPI was 8.00 percent below the index’s April 2007 high.

The FHFA HPI data is seasonally adjusted and is based on home purchases only.

FHFA month-to-month data for the nine census bureau districts reflects the differences in housing markets throughout the U.S.

FHFA month-to –month home price growth December 2013 to January 2014:

Middle Atlantic division:    + 1.30 percent

New England                        + 1.00 percent

West North Central             + 1.00 percent

Pacific                                    + 0.80 percent

East South Central              + 0.70 percent

Mountain                              + 0.50 percent

South Atlantic                      + 0.30 percent

East North Central              + 0.10 percent

West South Central             -  0.30 percent

Along with warm weather’s arrival is the potential for regional housing markets sidelined over the winter to recover.

BUSTED: 4 Myths About Buying Your Home That Just Aren’t True

BUSTED 4 Myths About Buying Your Home That Just Aren't TrueIt can be pretty intimidating to dip your toes into the realm of home ownership, especially if you’re a first-time homebuyer. To make things worse, there are a number of myths floating around out there surrounding the home buying process.

Such misconceptions have many kept many would-be homeowners from realizing the personal and financial rewards of owning a property. To clear things up, here are 4 myths about buying your first home that simply aren’t true.

Myth #1 - It’s Cheaper To Rent Instead Of Own

If you buy a property that is within your budget and your mortgage terms allow you to make comfortable monthly payments, the cost of rent can often be higher than mortgage payments.

Sure, there are other expenses associated with owning a property that you wouldn’t be responsible for if you were renting, but one thing that many people forget is the fact that renting does not allow you to build equity.

The ability to build equity into a property that you own is like paying into a savings account – if you buy a home for $200,000, and pay down your mortgage to $175,000 in 5 years, you’ll have $25,000 in home equity that can be tapped into later if you need a lump sum of cash to pay for other large expenses.

If you sell your property down the line, any equity that the property has accumulated will provide you with more profit from the sale of the home.

Myth #2 - Whatever Shows Up On The Inspection Report Is The Seller’s Responsibility

Most offers on a home usually come with a home inspection condition that makes the offer contingent on the acceptance of a home inspection report by the buyer. Many buyers, however, are under the impression that sellers are responsible for any issues that show up on the inspection report.

Although the seller is required to make certain major repairs as stipulated by the lender, everything is still negotiable. A buyer may ask the seller to fix a minor crack in the basement wall or repair any scuff marks on the hardwood flooring, but the seller can essentially refuse, leaving the buyer with the decision of whether or not to continue with the offer anyway.

Myth #3 - The Perfect Home Is Out There – I Just Have To Wait For It

Buyers have a tendency to focus too much on all the little things that may be wrong about a house rather than on the majority of the things that are right. Homes are much like people – they aren’t perfect. Even brand new homes might have a few minor flaws.

The goal of a house hunt is to find the perfectly acceptable home – one that may have a couple of quirks that you can either live with or fix, but is otherwise ideal. An experienced buyer’s agent can help you identify issues that are deal-breakers, and help keep some perspective by separating irritating details from the big picture.

Myth #4 - I Don’t Need A Real Estate Agent To Buy A House

Without the proper team behind you – especially if you’re a first-time homebuyer – you could potentially find yourself in a compromised position. Many buyers don’t take the time necessary to shop for an agent who can best represent them in their purchase.

Think about it this way – would you perform surgery on yourself? Do you feel comfortable filing your own income taxes, or do you opt to use the services of an accountant? Being represented by a licensed real estate agent will give you the benefit of professional skills and knowledge, including the ability to find financing and close the deal with your best interests put first.

It’s always in your best interests to have an experienced, knowledgeable agent representing you in a home purchase. With such a major investment on the line, you want to have someone who can help you complete a purchase leaving no stone unturned, and ultimately saving you money – and a lot of headaches.

A professional real estate agent will be able to sort the myths from the reality and make your first home-buying experience a positive one. 

FOMC Statement Shows “Moderate” Economic Growth

FOMC Statement Shows The Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee met last week and Janet Yellen held her first press conference as Fed chair. According to the FOMC statement released after the meeting, the Fed cited severe winter weather conditions as a reason for slow economic growth in recent months.

FOMC members will continue to monitor economic conditions and developments as part of any decision to change the Fed’s change monetary policy. Highlights included:

“Moderate” Economic Growth; Asset Purchases Reduced For April

FOMC made the predicted cut to its asset purchase program and reduced April’s purchase of mortgage-backed securities and Treasury bills to $55 billion. Citing moderate economic growth and modest improvement in labor markets, the FOMC expects to continue tapering the Fed’s monthly asset purchases in the coming months.

The FOMC statement indicated that the committee’s policy concerning asset purchases is not set in stone and can be adjusted in response to economic developments

Monthly asset purchases are part of the Fed’s economic stimulus program and are intended to hold down longer-term interest rates such as mortgage rates. If the Fed tapers its asset purchases too quickly, mortgage rates could potentially rise too quickly.

The FOMC statement noted that the U.S. housing market recovery has slowed. It is likely that FOMC members will continue to monitor mortgage rates as part of their “forward guidance” for tapering monthly asset purchases.

FOMC members also voted to maintain the federal funds rate at 0.000 to 0.250 percent. The FOMC said that inflation rates consistently below the committee’s target rate of two percent could pose risks to economic growth, but that the committee will wait and see if inflation moves closer to FOMC’s target reading over the medium term.

Unemployment Benchmark Removed

FOMC members voted to remove the previously established benchmark of 6.50 percent national unemployment rate as a criterion for changes to its stimulus programs. Going forward, the committee will rely on “forward guidance,” which indicates that the FOMC will change monetary policy according to global and domestic economic news and developments.

Chair’s Press Conference

FOMC and Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen gave her first press conference after the FOMC meeting statement was released. Ms. Yellen said that the FOMC decision to remove the benchmark unemployment rate was not an indication of change in the Fed’s monetary policy, but said that it would clarify how FOMC would evaluate its monetary policy after the national unemployment rate falls below 6.50 percent.

FOMC expects the national unemployment rate to fall between 6.10 and 6.30 percent by the end of 2014.

Chair Yellen said that weather conditions in January and February interfered with FOMC’s ability to assess the underlying strength of the economy. She added that economic conditions were broadly in line with the committee’s expectations in December 2013. Stronger economic conditions were seen as supporting growth in labor markets.

Chair Yellen said that the committee expected to maintain the federal funds rate at current levels “well past” the time the national unemployment rate falls below 6.50 percent. Inflationary pressures and expectations, labor market conditions and readings on financial developments.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week – March 24, 2014

What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week - March 24, 2014Last week’s economic news included several housing-related reports including the Housing Market Index (HMI) for March, a report on housing starts, and building permits for February.

The National Association of REALTORS® also released its Existing Home Sales report for February and the Federal Reserve issued its first FOMC statement under the helm of Fed Chair Janet Yellen.

Home Builders Conservative On Housing Market Conditions

The National Association of Home Builders Wells Fargo Housing Market Index rose by one point to a reading of 47 in March against a reading of 46 in February and against an expected reading of 50. Readings above 50 signify that more builders have a positive view of housing market conditions than not.

Conditions contributing to the sluggish reading included a lack of lots for development and labor shortages. The NAHB also cited rising home prices and mortgage rates as reasons for builders’ conservative outlook.

Commerce Department: Housing Starts And Building Permits

The U.S. Commerce Department released reports on Housing Starts and Building Permits Issued for February. Housing starts dipped to 907,000 in February against expectations of 908,000 expected housing starts and January’s reading of 909,000 housing starts. Severe winter weather froze construction and transport of building supplies.

Building permits issued increased to 1.02 million on a seasonally adjusted basis against January’s reading of 945,000 building permits issued.

February’s reading represents a 7.70 percent increase over January’s permits issued and was attributed to a sharp rise in plans for condominiums and rental housing projects.

407,000 permits for multi-unit buildings were issued in February and represented a 24.3 percent increase on an annualized basis. Analysts saw the increase in building permits as a sign that construction will pick up as warmer weather arrives.

Existing Home Sales Fall, Rising Home Prices And Mortgage Guidelines Cited

The National Association of REALTORS® reported a decrease of 0.40 percent in sales of existing homes from January’s reading. February’s reading of 4.60 million homes sold on a seasonally-adjusted annual basis was lower than January’s reading of 4.62 million existing homes sold, but exceeded expectations of 4.58 million existing homes sold.

Analysts identified familiar causes such as high mortgage rates and home prices, bad weather and a short supply of available homes for the dip in existing home sales. New standards for “qualified mortgages” became effective in January and were seen as a possible obstacle to would-be home buyers as mortgage lenders keep a tight rein on mortgage credit policies.

Federal Open Market Committee Statement Details $10 Billion Dollar Change

Reports indicate that Fed Policy is expected to stay much the same as it was under its previous chairman. FOMC approved an additional $10 billion reduction in asset purchases designed to keep long term interest rates low.

The Fed will now purchase $55 billion monthly in mortgage-backed securities and treasury bonds as compared to its original level of $85 billion monthly.

Wall Street did not respond well to FOMC’s revised projections for short-term interest rates, which were revised from 1.75 percent by the end of 2016 to a possible short-term rate of 2.25 percent.

FOMC removed the benchmark 6.50 percent national unemployment rate for raising the federal funds rate, which is currently 0.250 percent. Instead, the Fed will review a wide range of economic indicators before changing monetary policy.

Janet Yellen, in her first press conference as fed chair, said that the Fed may consider rising short-term interest rates a few months before its original target of October to December of 2015.

Mortgage Rates Drop

Mortgage rates dropped last week according to Freddie Mac. Average mortgage rates fell from 4.37 percent to 4.32 percent for 30-year fixed rate loans. Rates for 15-year mortgages dropped from 3.38 percent to 3.32 percent.

The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage fell from 3.09 percent to 3.02 percent. Discount points were unchanged at 0.60 percent for fixed rate mortgages and 0.40 percent for 5/1 adjustable rate mortgages.

What’s Ahead This Week

Scheduled economic reports for this week include the Case-Shiller and FHFA Home Price Indexes for January. New Home Sales and Pending Home Sales will also be released.

It’s Almost Spring Cleaning Time! Kick Clutter to the Curb With These Home Cleaning Tips

It's Almost Spring Cleaning Time! Kick Clutter to the Curb With These Home Cleaning TipsSpring is around the corner, and it’s time to get your home in order!

Spring cleaning can be fun and easy if you follow some general guidelines, which are sure to get your home ready for the nice weather and looking as beautiful as the weather is about to. Kick the winter clutter to the curb with these spring cleaning tips.

Start With The Closets

Spring is here, and winter wear is no longer needed! It’s time to box up all of the winter boots, jackets, gloves, and scarfs until next season.

Starting your spring clean with your closets is a good tip, and will get you prepared for the rest of the process while creating more space and organization in the bedrooms of the house. This is also the perfect opportunity to create a “give away” box full of clothes that are no longer being worn.

Reorganize: Bookshelves, Countertops, And Desks

Reorganizing is the perfect way to prepare your home for the spring and summer. Good clutter is common in many homes, like useful books that are interesting for guests to read or decorations that offer a sense of warmth and character to the home.

So pick up the fallen and leaning books on the bookshelf, reorganize your kitchen countertops, and de-clutter your home office. For busy home offices, purchase organizational tools like additional shelving units, compile and file away old bills and receipts, and toss anything else that is no longer needed or of any use.

Get Scrubbing: Removing Stains And Odors

Getting ready for spring means removing the stains, dirt, and odors that accumulated in your home over the colder months. First, you should start with wiping your painted walls with a wet cloth to remove scuffmarks and dust.

If the water doesn’t do the trick, you can try mixing a little dishwashing soap in with the bucket of warm water. You may even want to repaint certain high-traffic areas, like entrance halls and the baseboards around the front door.

Next, you can go for the floors. Having a fresh carpet cleaning is sure to kick-start your spring cleaning; this may be something that you wish to have done by a professional. To make the most out of your carpet cleaning, have it scheduled for when the kids are out of the house for a while, and wait until the worst of the weather is over.

Make sure the kids take their shoes off inside, but get them to leave their socks on to avoid natural oils from getting into your freshly cleaned carpet. Vacuum area rugs in the same fashion, and mop the kitchen and bathroom floors at the same time you clean your hardwood floors.

Give the showers, bathtubs, and toilets in the house a good scrub. In the kitchen, empty the fridge and freezer of their contents, and give the inside a good scrub down as well.

Once the tidying, de-cluttering, and scrubbing are done, you will get to enjoy the fun part of spring cleaning: spring decorating! And while you’re at it, why not buy yourself and your home some spring flowers for a job well done.

If you’re doing a big spring clean this year because you’re looking to sell your home, these tips will get your home ready for any buyer’s eyes. Contact your mortgage professional today to get more tips on buying or selling a home.

 

NAHB Housing Market Index Ticks Upward

NAHB Housing Market Index Ticks UpwardSpring is almost here, and the National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index (NAHB HMI) thawed slightly in March.

The current reading of 47 is one point higher than for February, but still indicates pessimism among a majority of builders surveyed. Analysts expected a March reading of 50.

The gauge of builder confidence stayed near its lowest level since May.

March’s NAHB HMI reading remained below the benchmark reading of 50, which indicates that an equal number of builders are positive about housing market conditions as those who are negative.

A reading over 50 indicates that more builders are positive than negative. Last August the NAHB HMI reading reached 58, its highest level since 2005.

Kevin Kelly, NAHB’s chairman said that builder concerns included a lack of land available for development, the lagging effects of severe winter weather and labor shortages.

NAHB HMI Details Show Regional Variances

The NAHB HMI national reading is based on builders’ views of three aspects of housing markets. The March reading of 47 is based on three components. The reading for prospective buyer traffic in new home developments rose by two points to 33.

Builder expectations for present sales of single-family homes rose from 51 to 52. Builder confidence in home sales in coming months fell from a reading of 54 to 53.

Rising mortgage rates and home prices along with inconsistent labor markets influenced builder confidence concerning future home sales.

March Readings For Regional Home Builder Confidence Were Varied:

  • Northeast: March’s reading was five points lower at 29.
  • Midwest: Builder confidence gained three points in March for a reading of 52.
  • West: Builder confidence dropped by five points to a reading of 53.
  • South: March’s reading rose by two points to 48.

In related news, the Department of Commerce reported housing starts for February dropped to 907,000 as compared to January’s reading of 909,000 housing starts and expectations of 908,000 housing starts.

Building permits for February rose by 7.70 percent to their second highest level since the recession for a total of 1.02 million permits. The rise in building permits was attributed to construction plans for condominium complexes and rental units.

4 Important Questions To Ask Before Refinancing Your Mortgage

4 Important Questions To Ask Before Refinancing Your Mortgage

So you are thinking of refinancing? Well you are in luck because I have 4 quick and important questions you should ask yourself before doing so.

1) Do I Have Enough Equity To Get A Mortgage?

To get a conventional loan, you will usually need to have at least 20 percent equity. This means that your house will have to be worth at least $250,000 to get a $200,000 loan.

If you have less equity, you could end up having to pay for private mortgage insurance, which can easily add $100 or more to your monthly payment.

2) How’s My Credit?

Most lenders will look at your credit score as a part of determining whether or not to make you a loan. With conventional lenders, your rate will depend on your score and the higher it is, the lower your payment will be.

Other lenders, like the FHA and VA programs have an all or nothing rule. If you qualify, your rate won’t be based on your credit, but if your score is too low, you won’t be able to get any loan. Generally, 620 credit scores are the lowest that will qualify you for any loan.

3) What Do I Want To Accomplish?

Mortgages typically offer a choice as to their term. While the 30-year loan is the most popular, shorter term mortgages save you money since you pay less interest over their lives. They also get you out of debt sooner, at least as regards your house.

The drawback is that they carry higher payments since you pay off more principal every month. This can make them less affordable for some borrowers, generally, you’ll need to keep your current house and loan for anywhere from three to six years to break even on the costs of refinancing.

4) How’s My Current Loan?

If you have an adjustable rate mortgage, you may want to switch to a fixed rate mortgage simply for the additional security it offers you. On the other hand, if you are planning to move relatively soon, your current mortgage could be a better deal whehter it’s fixed- or adjustable-rate.

When trying to decide what to do, compare the cost of refinancing with what it would cost you in additional interest to hold on to your existing loan. While the breakdown is different for every borrower, generally, you’ll need to keep your current house and loan for anywhere from three to six years to break even on the costs of refinancing.

Deciding what to do with your mortgage can be complicated. Working with a qualified loan broker that can consider every angle with you can help you to make a better decision.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week – March 17th, 2014

What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week March 17 2014Last week’s economic reports provided rays of light as compared to the recent slump in positive economic news.

Unusually severe winter weather conditions affected housing-related indicators as home builders and home buyers stayed on the sidelines.

With spring on the horizon, last week’s economic news showed welcome signs of growth.

Job Openings Up, New Jobless Claims Fall

Employment is a major factor in the decision to buy a home; would-be home buyers received a vote of confidence last week as January’s job openings increased by one million to 40 million as compared to December’s reading of 39 million job openings.

February’s reading will likely reflect a lull in activity due to winter weather conditions in much of the U.S.

Weekly jobless claims fell from 324,000 to 315,000. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported expectations of 330,000 new jobless claims, so the latest report was good news.

Weekly reports are more volatile than monthly statistics; analysts typically track employment trends by reviewing rolling averages of several weeks’ new jobless claims data.

Mortgage Rates, Retail Sales Rise

Freddie Mac reported that average mortgage rates rose last week. The rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage rose by nine basis points to 4.37 percent. 15-year fixed rate mortgages had an average rate of 3.38 percent; this was an increase of six basis points

The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage was 3.09 percent, up from the previous week’s reading of 3.03 percent.

Discount points dipped from 0.70 to 0.60 percent for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, were unchanged for 15-year and 5/1 adjustable rate mortgages at 0.60 and 0.40 percent.

Retail sales increased for the first time in three months according to the Commerce Department.

February retail sales surpassed expectations of a 0.20 percent gain and came in at 0.30 percent. January figures were downwardly adjusted to -0.60 percent. Retail sales exclusive of automotive sales were also higher at 0.30 percent than expectations of 0.10 percent.

The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment index for mark was slightly lower at 79.9 than expectations of 80.8.

This was the lowest reading in four months, and was attributed in part to higher gas prices and consumer concerns over developments in Ukraine.

What’s Coming Up

This week’s economic news includes several housing-related reports.

The NAHB Home Builder Index for March, Housing Starts and Building Permits for February, and Existing Home Sales are set for release.

On Wednesday, the Fed’s FOMC statement will be released and Fed Chair Janet Yellen will give a press conference. The Fed is expected to continue its ongoing tapering of quantitative easing.

Leading economic indicators will be released along with the Weekly Jobless Claims report and Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey.