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Mortgage Employment Increases for Ninth Consecutive Month

Independent mortgage banking and brokerage firms added 4,000 employees in November, even as rising interest rates took its toll on loan application volume.

This is the ninth consecutive month of growth in this sector, as total employment reached 322,100, up from a revised 318,100 in October, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Between September and October, the mortgage sector added 2,900 jobs.

But between the election and the end of 2016, mortgage rates increased for nine consecutive weeks, according to Freddie Mac. That in turn resulted in application activity declining in six of eight weeks, the Mortgage Bankers Association's weekly survey found.

Overall, total nonfarm employment rose by 156,000 in December. BLS revised October's new jobs data down to a gain of 135,000 and November's were raised to a gain of 204,000. For all of 2016, the U.S. added 2.2 million jobs, down from 2.7 million in 2015.

There is a one-month lag in BLS reporting of mortgage industry jobs data.

"The improvement in labor force participation and rise in compensation are generally positive results for housing. However, they need to be watched to determine how much is a result of minimum wage increases and lack of available skilled labor," said Fannie Mae Chief Economist Doug Duncan.

"Increased minimum wages can result in a reduction in entry-level employment and shortages of skilled labor can result in additional wage pressure. Overall, this is a solid report, sealing a string of six consecutive years of annual job gains of more than two million — the best record since 1999 — and showing a visible uptrend in wage growth over the past two years," he said.

On the other hand, higher wages could be good for the housing market and thus industry employment, said Mark Fleming, the chief economist for First American Financial Corp.

"Increasing wages are good for prospective homebuyers as it increases their purchasing power. We also expect home price appreciation to slow in 2017, another purchasing power benefit to the consumer. Faster rising rates may counter some of that purchasing power improvement," Fleming said.

Not all of the news was good in the real estate construction sector. The weekly hours worked fell to 38.7 hours even though there is a need for increased home construction and more commercial spaces, said National Association of Realtors Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.

"The typical hours worked had been 39 for most of 2016 and was 39.6 exactly one year ago. This declining hours imply weak future hiring since existing workers will first be allowed to get in extra hours before adding new hires. Even with recent slowing month-to-month trends, it is likely construction worker demand will rise quite robustly later in 2017 from both the need to provide more housing units and from an economic stimulus measure that will no doubt include infrastructure spending," said Yun.

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