Mortgage loan-officer hiring was up at banks before coronavirus

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Bank employment of mortgage loan officers rose slightly last year after a large drop in 2018, according to annual National Multistate Licensing System and Registry data released by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors.

Depositories had 415,978 MLOs on their payrolls in 2019, up from 415,517 the previous year, but down from 2017, when banks employed 421,700 MLOs. In comparison, nonbanks employed 165,116 MLOs, down from 165,240 in 2018, but up from 158,200 in 2017. Depository MLOs must be federally registered on the NMLS, unlike nonbank MLOs who need to have state licenses as part of being recorded on the system.

Overall, the total number of MLOs was slightly higher than a year ago. In 2019, there were 581,094 MLOs employed by either nonbanks or depository institutions and in 2018, there were 580,757. MLO employment has risen each year since 2016.

MLO numbers may hold up better than those that correspond to jobs in other industries this year amid employment strains related to the spread of the coronavirus and social distancing. That's because the government is lending some support to the market and mortgage rates — while volatile — have generally fallen, creating demand for refinancing that is expected to offset a decline in purchase transactions and funding for certain types of loans.

Unemployment insurance claims tracked by the U.S. Department of Labor experienced their highest-ever one-week increase on Thursday, but it's unclear how much long-term impact that will have the job market, according to Doug Duncan, chief economist at Fannie Mae.

"A few caveats make this week's data difficult to interpret precisely," he said in an email. "On one hand, UI eligibility rules have been relaxed recently, increasing the number of people who are able to apply. On the other hand, many states reported a significant backlog of UI applications due to a lack of processing capacity, indicating that this week's release may understate the true extent of layoffs. The recently enacted stimulus bill should help mitigate some of the negative shock to the labor market; however, any such impact from the stimulus bill is not yet reflected in the claims data."

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