While the U.S. economic data released over the past week generally was a bit weaker than expected, it was offset to some degree by stronger than expected data in China. The net effect was small, and mortgage rates ended the week just a little higher, up from the lowest levels of the year.
While explaining why the Fed plans to move gradually to tighten monetary policy, Fed Chair Yellen said that she was concerned that the recent increase in core inflation may be due to temporary factors. The consumer price index (CPI) report for March released on Thursday might be a sign that her concerns are justified.
Core CPI inflation, which excludes the volatile food and energy components, was 2.2% higher than a year ago, down from a 2.3% annual rate in February, and below the consensus forecast. This follows four straight months of increasing levels of core inflation and may be the start of a trend lower. It would be good for mortgage rates if inflation continues to decline.
Retail sales in March were a good deal weaker than expected. The results were decent, but investors were looking for better. Excluding the volatile auto component, retail sales increased 0.2% from February, which was the largest increase in four months, but it was half the expected level. Consumer spending is an important component of gross domestic product (GDP), and it was somewhat surprising that the report caused so little reaction.
Looking ahead, the biggest event next week may be Thursday's European Central Bank (ECB) meeting. Bond purchases by the ECB have helped keep global bond yields low, so comments about future policy could have an impact on U.S. mortgage rates. Before that, the NAHB housing index will be released on Monday. Housing starts will come out on Tuesday. Existing home sales will be released on Wednesday.