Despite the release of a wide range of major economic data, a speech from Fed Chair Yellen had the biggest influence on mortgage rates over the past week. Her comments were favorable for both stocks and bonds, and mortgage rates ended the week lower.
Since the March 16 Fed meeting, several Fed officials have expressed support for tightening monetary policy at a more rapid pace. In Tuesday's speech, Yellen laid out reasons that the Fed should take a very gradual approach to tightening monetary policy. According to Yellen, economic troubles in other countries pose downside risks to the U.S. economy. She also said that it is unclear if the recent pickup in core inflation will be sustained or whether it was due to temporary factors. Yellen's message about an outlook for low inflation and a longer expected timeline for tightening by the Fed was good news for mortgage rates.
There were few surprises in the important monthly employment report released on Friday, and it caused little reaction. Against a consensus forecast of 210K, the economy added 215K jobs in March. This is close to the average monthly pace seen over the past year.
The unemployment rate edged up from 4.9% to 5.0%. The higher rate was mostly due to people entering the workforce, which is a sign of strength. Average hourly earnings, an indicator of wage growth, rose 0.3% from February, matching expectations. The vast majority of the job gains came in the service sector, while manufacturing continued to shed jobs.
Looking ahead, Factory Orders will be released on Monday. The ISM national services index and the JOLTS report will come out on Tuesday. JOLTS measures job openings and labor turnover rates. The Fed minutes from the March 16 meeting will be released on Wednesday. These detailed minutes provide additional insight into the debate between Fed officials and have the potential to significantly move markets.