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By G. Steven Bray
The Federal Reserve gave us an unexpected surprise last week by announcing details of its balance sheet reduction plan. The Fed has been the main buyer of mortgage bonds, and the concern is that when the Fed curtails its buying, the law of supply and demand will push mortgage rates higher. Even though the Fed didn’t give a start date for the plan, markets are anticipatory, and the news immediately put pressure on rates.
And that probably would have been the news of the day if not the morning’s economic data. Continuing a recent trend, the two reports, inflation and retail sales, both were weaker than expected. The inflation number was particularly disconcerting given that managing inflation is one of the Fed’s mandates. Core inflation dropped again to 1.7%, falling farther from the Fed’s 2% target.
As a result, interest rates were in rally mode by the time of the Fed announcement. The announcement stemmed the rally, but the damage could have been worse. The Fed merely paid lip service to recent economic data and didn’t change its rate hike outlook at all. Despite this, rates held onto most of their gains.
Unfortunately, this leaves us without a sense of direction for rates. This week’s economic calendar is fairly quiet, and if you’re floating your interest rate, I think it makes sense to be defensive. Rates could fall further, but that probably requires an unexpected headline in the short term. If you want to float, choose a bail-out point and keep an eye on rates.