Lenders Staff Up in February Despite Slowing Originations

Mortgage companies added 3,000 full-time employees to their payrolls in February, according to Friday's jobs report.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that employment in the mortgage banking and broker sector rose to 265,300 in February from 262,300 in January.

Most of February's hiring came from mortgage banking companies even though loan production had been falling for months.  Originations fell to 450,300 loans in January from 542,200 in December, according to Lenders Processing Services.

The uptick in hiring could be due to the HARP 2.0 program, which became fully operational in early March.  Lenders are hoping HARP 2.0 will create another surge in refinancings. 

Also on Friday, BLS reported the economy created 120,000 new jobs in March, down from 240,000 in February.

Most economists expected to see at least 200,000 new hires and Friday's disappointing report showed little change in construction or government employment.  Last year, 265,000 government workers lost their jobs.

The unemployment rate edged down to 8.2% in March, from 8.3% in the prior month.

(There is a one-month lag in BLS reporting of employment data in the mortgage industry.)