Oct 092019

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By G. Steven Bray

Mortgage rates seem to be range-bound once more. After the decidedly weak manufacturing and services sector reports last week, that may be a bit of a surprise. The talking heads predictably spouted doom and gloom scenarios of a pending recession, but it seems like investors weren’t listening very closely. Rates initially retreated on the headlines, but since then have held steady.

So, what is likely to be the next source of inspiration for rates?

I think the most important economic data to watch at this point are the confidence measures. Business confidence has been lagging most of the year due to the ongoing trade dispute with China. However, consumer confidence has been sky high. That may be changing – possibly due to uncertainty created by the impeachment drama or the constant downbeat news from the press or maybe something else. My biggest fear is that we talk ourselves into a recession.

If consumers pull back, the economy could erode quickly, which would lead to much lower rates as we close the year. Given the political considerations – election next year – I suspect political operatives will do what they can to encourage that erosion. Thus, I put higher odds on lower rates before the end of the year.

I think the most important economic issue still is the trade dispute with China. Earlier in the year, I was betting on at least a partial resolution, which I said would lead to higher rates. However, given our current political dysfunction, I doubt China will want to deal. We may see a temporary reprieve from some of the sanctions, which could tickle rates higher for a short time, but I expect the dispute will continue to dampen both domestic and global growth, which would keep a lid on interest rates.

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