The stock market has been trading in a very narrow range throughout the week. With virtually no major surprises in any of the economic reports, there has been little for investors to trade on. It appears that for the time being many investors are attempting to gauge the direction of the economy before making any significant trading decisions. The government is yelling from the mountain top that the economy is getting better and better; however the latest economic data seems to be indicating that things are slowing down slightly.
The housing market still appears sluggish based on the latest housing starts data for March. The report released on Thursday morning seemed to disappoint investors in that although the data showed an increase of 2.0 percent after plunging a monthly 15.3 percent in February, it was expected that the report would be much stronger. Starts are down 2.5 percent from the same time last year. This is one of the first and few recent housing reports that have actually showed productivity below the same time last year.
The Northeast experienced the most significant increase as the spring thaw occurred and allowed builders to start working. The Midwest also saw weather related gains. The large South region declined 3.5 percent and the West fell 19.3 percent. With the weakness in these two housing reports, it is likely that the Fed will continue to watch closely additional housing data due to be released next week.
A bright spot in housing is that it seems that first time buyers are finally beginning to edge their way back into the market. The housing market index for March is climbing, although still considered soft, it none the less, is indicating increased optimism for builders.
After 3 straight weeks of strong gains in mortgage applications, the purchase index reported by the Mortgage Bankers Association showed a decline in purchase applications. The MBA reported that applications for purchase loans declined 3.0 percent and refinance applications dropped 2.0 percent. Mortgage rates have remained very low and have barely moved in the last couple of weeks. One possible explanation for the declines is that many areas of the country have been having Spring Recess from school which had many heading on vacation.
A bright spot in the weekly economic data came from the retail sales report released on Tuesday. Retail sales jumped a greater than expected 0.5 percent for the month of March. This increase comes on the heels of February’s decline of 0.3 percent. Even when you take out volatile automobile and gasoline sales, the index showed an increase of 0.4 percent which exceeded analyst’s expectations.
Lastly, first time jobless claims, although increasing by 12,000 from the prior week, remain favorable at 294,000. Below 300,000 is still considered a healthy labor department number.
This week’s potential market moving reports:
– Wednesday April 22nd – MBA Applications, Existing Home Sales & FHFA House Price Index
– Thursday April 23rd – First Time Jobless Claims & New Home Sales
– Friday April 24th – Durable Goods Orders