That's what's going to be driving the futures around this morning, at least as far as economic data is concerned. Jobs and mortgages.
So let's start off with the mortgages. The Mortgage Bankers Association has released it's Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, which has a name that is reasonably self-explanatory. The current release is for the week ending 1/28, and has the Market Composite Index up 11.3% on a seasonally adjusted basis. The Refinance Index (again, self-explanatory) was up 11.7%, while the Purchase Index (which looks at brand new mortgage applications) was up 9.5%. Refinancing represented 69.3% of the total applications filed for the week, and the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 4.81%.
And now, jobs. First, we have the Challenger Job-Cut Report, issued by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which tracks layoffs by region and industry. the February report indicates that employers announced plans to cut 38,519 jobs in January. This is an increase from December's 32,004 layoffs, but it is also the lowest January total on record - the average layoffs in January are 104,560. Drilling in, we see that:
- The government and non-profit sector led the charge, with 6450 planned reductions in staff (up substantially from December's 3276 job cuts). Furthermore, there are no indications that there will be a turnaround in the trend in 2011.
- The retail sector was second with an announcement to cut 5755 jobs. this is also up from December's 4937, but significantly down from January 2010 (16,737 layoffs). Challenger, Gray & Christmas see this as a sign of a rebound in the retail sector.
- California had the most layoffs (4848), followed by Illinois (4078), North Carolina (3465), Michigan (2604) and Iowa 92216).
Moving on to a report that gets a little more attention, ADP has also released its January 2011 National Employment Report. First off, they revised the December employment figures downward from an increase of 297,000 to an increase of only 247,000. January saw an employment increase of only 217,000. That looks weak, but it substantially beats the average employment gain over the last six months (which was only 52,000 per month). Drilling in to the report:
- Employment in the service sector rose by 166,000 (the twelfth consecutive month of gains for the sector), while the employment in the goods-producing sector rose 21,000 (the third month of consecutive gains) and employment in the manufacturing sector rose 19,000 (also the third consecutive month of gains).
- Construction employment fell 1000. Financial services employment gained 3000.
- Large business employment increased by 11,000. Medium-size business employment increased 79,000. Small-size business employment increased 97,000.
None of these are going to shove the market around too much on their own, but the aggregate effect of both the mortgage gains and the improvement in the employment situation should help boost the futures. Also, it seems to point towards good results for tomorrow's First Time Jobless Claims, and Friday's Employment Situation Report.
 Who, now? According to their website, Challenger, Gray & Christmas are "the nation's first, oldest, and premier outplacement organization". And what is an outplacement organization? A company that assists "downsizing" companies in helping former employees through the transition to new jobs. So it could be argued that they have their finger on the pulse of the layoff rate in the US.
 That is, companies laying people off.