The Housing Chronicles Blog: 5/1/18 - 6/1/18

Friday, May 25, 2018

April durable goods orders dipped 1.7 percent due to decline in aviation

Although durable-goods orders fell 1.7% April, that decline was mostly due to falling orders for planes.  Orders minus transportation rose 0.9%, for the third consecutive monthly gain.

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May consumer sentiment slips to 98.0 on smaller expected income gains


Consumer sentiment slipped by less than an Index-point from last month. Since Trump's election, the Sentiment Index has meandered in a tight eight-point range from 93.4 to 101.4, with the small month-to-month variations indicating no emerging trend.

Consumers have remained focused on expected gains in jobs and incomes as well as anticipated increases in interest rates and inflation during the year ahead. As past expansions have shown, rising interest rates do not suppress spending gains as long as they are accompanied by more substantial increases in incomes.

The May survey, however, found that consumers anticipated smaller income gains than a month or year ago, even though they anticipate the unemployment rate to stabilize at its current eighteen year low. Importantly, references to discounted prices for durables, vehicles, and homes fell to decade lows.


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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Initial unemployment claims rise 11,000 in most recent week

In the week ending May 19, initial unemployment claims were 234,000, an increase of 11,000 from the previous week's revised level. The 4-week moving average was 219,750, an increase of 6,250 from the previous week's revised average.

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Mortgage applications fall 2.6 percent, rates rise to highest level since April 2011

The Market Composite Index decreased 2.6 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier, with purchase loans down 2.0 percent and refinances falling 4.0 percent. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to its highest level since April 2011, 4.86 percent.

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Bloomberg: Consumer comfort rebounds for first time in five weeks

U.S. household sentiment improved for the first time in five weeks on more upbeat views about personal finances and the economy, with the index rising from 54.6 to 55.2.

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FOMC meeting minutes indicate more interest rate hikes ahead in 2018

After assessing current conditions and the outlook for economic activity, the labor market, and inflation, members agreed to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 percent. They noted that the stance of monetary policy remained accommodative, thereby supporting some further strengthening in labor market conditions and a sustained return to 2 percent inflation.

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FHFA: First quarter 2018 home prices rose 1.7 percent, up 6.9 percent year-on-year

U.S. house prices rose 1.7 percent in the first quarter of 2018 according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) House Price Index (HPI).   House prices rose 6.9 percent from the first quarter of 2017 to the first quarter of 2018. FHFA's seasonally adjusted monthly index for March was up 0.1 percent from February.

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April existing home sales slipped again year-on-year due to lack of supply

Total existing-home sales decreased 2.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.46 million in April from 5.60 million in March. With last month's decline, sales are now 1.4 percent below a year ago and have fallen year-over-year for two straight months.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Gallup: Optimism about finding quality jobs hits 17-year high

Sixty-seven percent of Americans believe that now is a good time to find a quality job in the U.S., the highest percentage in 17 years of Gallup polling. Optimism about the availability of good jobs has grown by 25 percentage points since Donald Trump was elected president.

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May IHS Markit Composite Output Index rises to 55.7, highest in three months

At 55.7 in May, up from 54.9 in April, the seasonally adjusted IHS Markit Flash U.S. Composite PMI Output Index was the highest for three months and well above the crucial 50.0 no-change value. A faster rise in service sector output was the key factor behind the acceleration.

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April new home sales dipped 1.5 percent from March, up 11.6 percent year-on-year

Sales of new single-family houses in April 2018 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 662,000. This is 1.5 percent below the revised March rate of 672,000, but is 11.6 percent above the April 2017 estimate of 593,000.

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Monday, May 21, 2018

May Philadelphia Fed Business Outlook Survey rose strongly from April

Results from the May Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey suggest a pickup in growth of the region's manufacturing sector, with the diffusion index for current general activity increasing 11 points, from 23.2 in April to 34.4 this month.

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May Empire State Manufacturing Survey suggests stronger growth from April

Business activity grew strongly in New York State in May, with the headline general business conditions index climbing four points to 20.1, indicating a faster pace of growth than in April.

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National Activity Index rose slightly in April

The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) ticked up to +0.34 in April from +0.32 in March. The index's three-month moving average, CFNAI-MA3, increased to +0.46 in April from +0.23 in March.

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Business inflation expectations dip to 2.0 percent in May update

Firms' inflation expectations decreased from 2.3 to 2.0 percent over the year ahead. Sales levels went unchanged, remaining "above normal," on average. Profit margins improved slightly, and year-over-year unit costs decreased to 1.9 percent, on average.

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April Non-Employment Index edged down 0.3 points year-on-year to 7.8 percent

The Hornstein-Kudlyak-Lange Non-Employment Index (NEI) was 7.8 percent in April 2018, edging down from March 2018. It has declined by 0.3 percentage points since April 2017. The NEI including workers who are part time for economic reasons (PTER) was 8.8 percent in March 2018, edging down compared to the previous month. That index has declined by 0.4 percentage points since April 2017.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

4-week average of unemployment claims at lowest level since December 1969

In the week ending May 12, initial unemployment claims were 222,000, an increase of 11,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 211,000. The 4-week moving average was 213,250, a decrease of 2,750 from the previous week's unrevised average of 216,000. This is the lowest level for this average since December 13, 1969 when it was 210,750.

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Refinances dip to lowest level in nearly 10 years, rates slip slightly

The Market Composite Index decreased 2.7 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier, with purchase loans down 2.0 percent, and refinances falling 4.0 percent to lowest level since August 2008. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages decreased to 4.77 percent.

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Bloomberg: Consumer comfort fell for fourth straight week as gas prices continue to rise

Americans' sentiment fell for a fourth straight week to 54.6 - the lowest since early February -- as still-rising gasoline prices drove a measure of the buying climate down by the most in eight months.

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

April industrial production up 0.7 percent, its third consecutive increase

Industrial production rose 0.7 percent in April for its third consecutive monthly increase.  At 107.3 percent of its 2012 average, total industrial production in April was 3.5 percent higher than it was a year earlier. Capacity utilization for the industrial sector climbed 0.4 percentage point in April to 78.0 percent, a rate that is 1.8 percentage points below its long-run (1972-2017) average.

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First quarter 2017 e-commerce sales rose 3.7 times faster than overall retail year-on-year

Retail e-commerce sales for the first quarter of 2018 were up 3.9 percent from the fourth quarter of 2017 and up 16.4 percent year-on-year. E-commerce sales in the first quarter of 2018 accounted for 9.5 percent of total sales, up from 8.5 percent a year ago.

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April Leading Economic Index up another 0.4 percent

The Conference Board Leading Economic Index® (LEI) for the U.S. increased 0.4 percent in April to 109.4, following a 0.4 percent increase in March, and a 0.7 percent increase in February.  In April, stock prices and housing permits were the only negative contributors, whereas the labor market components, which made negative contributions in March, improved.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

March business inventories flat from February, up 3.8 percent year-on-year

March manufacturers' and trade inventories were flat from February 2018, and up 3.8 percent from March 2017. March shipments were up 0.5 percent from February and 6.4 percent from March 2017. The total business inventories/sales ratio based on seasonally adjusted data at the end of March was 1.34, down from 1.38 the previous month.

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April retail sales up 0.3 percent from March and 4.7 percent year-on-year

U.S. retail and food services sales for April 2018 rose 0.3 percent from the previous month, and 4.7 percent above April 2017.

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May builder confidence rebounds two points to 70

Builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes rose two points to a level of 70 in May. This is the fourth time the HMI has reached 70 or higher this year.  The HMI chart gauging current sales conditions increased two points to 76 in May while the indexes measuring buyer traffic and expectations in the next six months remained unchanged at 51 and 77, respectively.

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April building permits dip 1.8 percent from revised March numbers but up 7.7 percent year-on-year

Privately-owned housing units authorized by building permits in April were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,352,000. This is 1.8 percent below the revised March rate of 1,377,000, but is 7.7 percent above the April 2017 rate of 1,255,000.

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April housing starts dip 3.7 percent from revised March numbers but up 10.5 percent year-on-year

Privately-owned housing starts in April were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,287,000. This is 3.7 percent below the revised March estimate of 1,336,000, but is 10.5 percent above the April 2017 rate of 1,165,000.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

March business inventories flat from February, up 3.8 percent year-on-year

March manufacturers' and trade inventories were flat from February 2018, and up 3.8 percent from March 2017. March shipments were up 0.5 percent from February and 6.4 percent from March 2017. The total business inventories/sales ratio based on seasonally adjusted data at the end of March was 1.34, down from 1.38 the previous month.

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April retail sales up 0.3 percent from March and 4.7 percent year-on-year

U.S. retail and food services sales for April 2018 rose 0.3 percent from the previous month, and 4.7 percent above April 2017.

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May builder confidence rebounds two points to 70

Builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes rose two points to a level of 70 in May. This is the fourth time the HMI has reached 70 or higher this year.  The HMI chart gauging current sales conditions increased two points to 76 in May while the indexes measuring buyer traffic and expectations in the next six months remained unchanged at 51 and 77, respectively.

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Monday, May 14, 2018

February mortgage delinquency share dips to 4.8 percent, down 0.2 points year-on-year

In February, 4.8 percent of mortgages were in some stage of delinquency, down from 5.0 percent a year ago. The foreclosure inventory rate was 0.6 percent, down 0.2 percentage points year-on-year.  Since August 2017, the foreclosure inventory rate has been steady at 0.6 percent, the lowest level since June 2007, when it was also 0.6 percent.

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CoreLogic: March home prices up 1.4 percent from February and 7.0 percent year-on-year

CoreLogic HPI:  Home prices increased nationally by 7.0 percent year over year from March 2017 to March 2018, while on a month-over-month basis, prices increased by 1.4 percent in March 2018. The CoreLogic HPI Forecast is projected to continue to increase by 5.2 percent year-over-year by March 2019.

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Gallup: Americans hoping to buy a home in the next 5 years exceeds home sellers

Slightly less than half of U.S. non-homeowners, 45%, say they plan to buy a home within the next five years. But their ability to do so may be hampered by a limited supply of homes, as 22% of current homeowners plan to sell within that time frame. Similarly, 18% of all U.S. adults do not own a home and plan to buy one in the next five years. Meanwhile, 13% of U.S. adults own a home and plan to sell in the same time frame.

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Consumer sentiment remains flat in mid-May survey

Consumer sentiment remained unchanged in early May from the April survey. What is likely to capture attention, however, are the small uptick in near term inflation expectations, the downward slippage in income expectations, and the expected stabilization of the national unemployment rate at decade lows.

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

As Urban Home Prices Rise, Millennials Are Returning to the Suburbs: City-Like Amenities are Following


It wasn’t too long ago that many experts were eulogizing the suburbs as young millennials (and even many aging baby boomers) seemed to prefer the sights, sounds and amenities of urban environments.  However, as the millennials have grown older and been increasingly priced out of expensive downtown areas, they have been gradually returning to the suburbs in order to lay down roots and start families.

But they’re not really leaving the city behind.  Instead, they’re demanding and supporting the types of unique, city-like amenities which attracted them there in the first place. 

Yes, the suburbs are again becoming trendy.

Certainly part of this trend is due to simple math:  Given a reported 32 percent increase in births between 1978 and 1990, it stands to reason that many cities would be hosting a huge influx of residents born about 25 years ago.  Indeed, many cities may have reached “peak millennial” as the largest group of this generation passed the milestone age of 25 in 2015, and then moved further out as they settled into their careers and started planning for the next stages of life.  By that same year, nearly 73 percent of those aged 25 to 34 were already living in suburbs, versus the 21 percent living in cities.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data as analyzed by demographer William Frey at the Brookings Institution, since 2012 the growth of suburbs and rural areas has quadrupled, while that of urban areas has fallen by half. 

Using the same data sets, Demographia’s Wendell Cox found that between 2016 and 2017 nearly 440,000 residents moved away from counties with urban cores, while the outlying suburbs gained net 252,000 residents.  Although some large urban areas have added more people – such as in Dallas, Houston and Atlanta – they tend to have smaller downtown areas ringed by residential areas with a suburban feel.

Although we saw this kind of urban-to-suburban flight between the 1950s and the 1980s, in that case it was usually due to fear of rising crime as well as the evolution of more suburban employment centers.  Today, however, the same type of migration is due to the enormous success of the rebirth of many urban centers, which has been accompanied by soaring home prices and rents. Another difference today is that the amenities once considered specific to urban cores, such as craft breweries, fitness boot camps and gluten-free bakeries, are increasingly popping up in the suburbs.

One place in which developers can quickly jump on this emerging trend is with a more modern version of the master-planned community.  

Whereas yesterday’s behemoths were centered around golf courses designed by the sport’s biggest names and usually required car trips to the neighborhood shopping center, today’s master plans now include not just open space and walking trails, but also retail stores and event spaces more uniquely branded to the community.

And, instead of selling out home sites to merchant builders and then moving onto the next project, some enterprising developers are partnering with HOAs to host regular events ranging from movie nights and luaus to happy hours and cooking classes.

Another land use which could benefit from the urban-to-suburban trend is retail, especially as more old-style malls are increasingly being converted into spaces for offices, schools and homes.  Given that a 2017 Gallup survey showed that 43 percent of employed Americans work partly from home, local versions of the co-sharing office space company WeWork are increasingly sprouting up in suburbs.  For local millennial entrepreneurs, a flexible retail landlord could offer pop-up stores, galleries and incubator spaces to help test-market their ideas before a formal launch.

Of course perhaps the biggest challenge to the renaissance of the suburb will be how to pay for it.  In the early 2010s, there was a fortunate blending of demographics and the economic cycle in which most millennials were looking to rent apartments, and fewer barriers existed to new development in urban cores.  But as this group moves to the suburbs in search of quality schools, mass transit options and adequate infrastructure, how to provide these basic services at a time of rising public pension commitments for many state and local governments will require some new solutions.

Still, some cities are fighting back to retain their millennials by encouraging suburban-type projects (such as duplexes, row houses and townhomes) to address the “missing middle” of housing options.  By leveraging existing urban amenities with more family friendly homes, they aim to keep their millennials in town for as long as possible.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Initial unemployment claims flat from previous week

In the week ending May 5, initial unemployment claims were 211,000, unchanged from the previous week's unrevised level of 211,000. The 4-week moving average was 216,000, a decrease of 5,500 from the previous week's unrevised average of 221,500. This is the lowest level for this average since December 20, 1969 when it was 214,500.

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Mortgage applications fall 0.4 percent, rates dip slightly

The Market Composite Index decreased 0.4 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier, with purchase loans down 0.2 percent and refinances falling 1.0 percent. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages decreased to 4.78 percent.

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Bloomberg: Consumer comfort drops as gas prices and low wage growth dim outlook

U.S. consumer comfort dropped last week to 55.8, the lowest level since early February, as views of the buying climate and personal finances dimmed, possibly reflecting higher fuel prices and unimpressive wage growth.  This is the largest drop since last September.

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April CPI up 0.2 percent, annual increase dipped to 2.5 percent

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.2 percent in April; over last 12 months, the all items index rose 2.5 percent. The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.1 percent in April and was up 2.1 percent for the 12 months ending April.

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April new home mortgage applications up 7.5 from March, down 5.0 percent year-on-year

The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) Builder Applications Survey (BAS) data for April 2018 shows mortgage applications for new home purchases increased 7.5 percent compared to April 2017. Compared to March 2018, applications decreased by 5 percent. This change does not include any adjustment for typical seasonal patterns.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Small Business Optimism Index rose to 104.8 in April, marking 17 months of increases

The Small Business Optimism Index sustained record-high levels for the 17th straight month, increasing to 104.8 in April and driven by reports of improved profits, the highest in the NFIB Small Business Economic Trends Survey's 45-year history.

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March consumer credit use grew at 3.6 percent, slowest gain since September

Consumer credit in March grew at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.6 percent to mark the slowest gain since September. Nonrevolving credit such as student and auto loans grew 6 percent, while revolving credit, namely credit cards, fell 3 percent, marking the second drop in a row.

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March job openings rose 7.8 percent to 6.55 million, highest level since December 2000

The March update on job openings saw a 7.8 percent rise to 6.55 million.  This is the highest level since the BLS initiated its JOLTS (Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary) report in December of 2000. At the same time, hires fell 1.6 percent while separations rose 2.3 percent.

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April Producer Price Index growth slipped to 0.1 percent, up 2.6 percent year-on-year

The Producer Price Index for final demand rose 0.1 percent in April, down from 0.3 percent in March and 0.2 percent in February, and was up 2.6 percent for the 12 months ended in April. The index for final demand less foods, energy, and trade services edged up 0.1 percent in April after increasing 0.4 percent in March, and was up 2.5 percent for the 12 months ended in April.

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Monday, May 7, 2018

Gallup: 1/3 of Americans consider real estate as best long-term investment vs. 1/4 for stocks

According to Gallup, more Americans name real estate over several other vehicles for growing wealth as the best long-term investment for the fifth year in a row. Just over a third cite real estate for this, while roughly a quarter name "stocks or mutual funds." Gold, mentioned by 17%, roughly ties "savings accounts or CDs" at 15%, while only a few Americans, 6%, name bonds.

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March U.S. trade deficit dropped 15.1 percent from February, but still up 18.5 percent YTD year-on-year

The goods and services deficit was $49.0 billion in March, down 15.1 percent from February. Year-to-date, the goods and services deficit increased $25.5 billion, or 18.5 percent, from the same period in 2017.

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Friday, May 4, 2018

Job growth rebounded to 164,000 in April, unemployment edged down to 3.9 percent

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 164,000 in April, and the unemployment rate edged down to 3.9 percent, due mostly to the labor force shrinking by 236,000 as Baby Boomers step up retirement. Job gains occurred in professional and business services, manufacturing, health care, and mining.

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Thursday, May 3, 2018

April manufacturing index fell 2.0 points to 57.3 due to high input prices, tariffs and tight labor market

The April PMI® registered 57.3 percent, a decrease of 2 percentage points from the March reading of 59.3 percent. Lead time extensions, steel and aluminum disruptions, supplier labor issues, and transportation difficulties continue. Demand remains robust, but the nation's employment resources and supply chains continue to struggle.

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March construction spending dipped 1.7 percent from February but still up 3.6 percent year-on-year

Construction spending during March 2018 was estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1,284.7 billion, 1.7 percent below the revised February estimate but 3.6 percent above the March 2017 estimate. During the first three months of this year, construction spending was 5.5 percent above the same period in 2017.

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Initial unemployment claims rise 2,000 in weekly report

In the week ending April 28, initial unemployment claims were 211,000, an increase of 2,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 209,000. The 4-week moving average was 221,500, a decrease of 7,750 from the previous week's unrevised average of 229,250. This is the lowest level for this average since March 3, 1973 when it was 221,250.

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Mortgage applications fall 2.5 percent as rates rise to highest level since September 2013

The Market Composite Index decreased 2.5 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier, with purchase loans down 2.0 percent and refinances falling 4.0 percent. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to its highest level since September 2013, 4.80 percent.

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Bloomberg: Consumer comfort drops to seven-week low as gas prices rise

Rising prices at the gas pump helped drive U.S. household sentiment to a seven-week low at the end of April, with the consumer comfort index falling 1.6 points to 56.5.  This is the largest drop since October.

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April service sector economy index dips 2.0 points due to concerns about tariffs and inflation

The April NMI® registered 56.8 percent, which is 2 percentage points lower than the March reading of 58.8 percent. There was a slowing in the rate of growth that was mostly attributed to the decline in the Employment and Supplier Deliveries indexes. The respondents have expressed concern regarding the uncertainty about tariffs and the effect on the cost of goods.

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1Q 2018 Labor productivity up 0.7 percent from previous quarter and 1.3 percent year-on-year

Nonfarm business sector labor productivity increased 0.7 percent during the first quarter of 2018, as output increased 2.8 percent and hours worked increased 2.1 percent. From the first quarter of 2017 to the first quarter of 2018, productivity increased 1.3 percent, reflecting a 3.6-percent increase in output and a 2.2-percent increase in hours worked.

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April planned job cuts plummeted 40.2 percent from March, down 1.4 percent year-on-year

Job cuts announced by U.S.-based employers fell 40.2 percent in April, and were also down 1.4 percent year-on-year.  So far this year, employers have announced 176,460 job cuts, 8.38 percent more than those announced through the first four months of 2017, with 36.5 percent of those in retail.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Federal Reserve leaves interest rate unchanged in May meeting, suggests future increases will be slow

The Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMC) has opted to keep its benchmark federal funds interest rate in the range of 1.50 to 1.75 percent. Although economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant further gradual increases in the federal funds rate, the federal funds rate is likely to remain, for some time, below levels that are expected to prevail in the longer run.

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