The mortgage job market is holding steady — for now

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So far, strong originations have sustained elevated levels of nonbank mortgage hiring, but unprecedented overall unemployment and a decline in residential construction jobs suggest strain on the business could grow.

Estimates for nonbank mortgage broker and banker jobs — which are reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with a one-month lag to other employment numbers — rose slightly from the previous month in March to 312,500 as the coronavirus began to circulate in the United States. There was a small upward revision to February's nonbank mortgage job numbers as well.

However, an 11% year-over-year decline in residential construction jobs seen in April could indicate a negative impact to the mortgage market in the future, if it is reflective of virus-related constraints on building that shrink the housing inventory available to would-be owners. To date, there has already been a shortage of homes relative to demand.

"The housing market needs new supply at every point of the income spectrum, and it's very hard to build more homes without increasing residential construction employment and productivity," Odeta Kushi, deputy chief economist at First American, said in an email on Friday's jobs report.

But April's 14.7% overall unemployment rate, a contraction in credit availability and social-distancing constraints suggest inventory shortages could potentially be offset by diminished interest in buying homes until the coronavirus impact fades and the economy improves.

Purchase applications typically increase in the spring and have been rising in recent weeks, but they currently account for just 30% of the mortgage activity in the market. Rate-driven refinancing is more prevalent, but was down slightly in the past week.

The servicing side of the business will likely continue to be under more strain than originations.

"We expect that a rising share of loans will continue to be put into forbearance, putting further liquidity stresses on mortgage servicers," Joel Kan, associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting at the Mortgage Bankers Association, said in an email.

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