Rate update: Trade war vs inflation

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: Trade war vs inflation
Jul 102018
 

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By G. Steven Bray

If you’ve been waiting to lock your mortgage rate, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that you haven’t lost any ground. Rates have been remarkably flat for the last few weeks. The bad news is that if you were hoping for lower rates, your hopes went unfulfilled.

Rates seem to be caught in a tug of war. On one side, we have trade war fears. Traders have been yo-yo-ing in response to constant headlines. Now, it’s quite possible that trading partners are using the headlines to manage their bargaining positions, but this leads to uncertainty, which exerts downward pressure on rates.

On the other side, we have inflation. The Federal Reserve’s favored inflation metric, the personal consumption expenditures index, finally rose to the Fed’s target of 2% in May. Analysts attribute the rise to the robust economy. Even though last Friday’s jobs report didn’t show elevated wage inflation, it did show that job growth remains strong. A strong labor market does exert pressure on wages in some parts of the economy even if the overall inflation rate remains tame.

So, which side will win? We could find out this week. This Thurs, we get the granddaddy of inflation reports, the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Analysts predict 2.3%, which is as high as the CPI has been since the Great Recession. A higher number could pull the rope in favor of inflation, leading to a quick jump in mortgage rates. However, a number that matches expectations probably will leave rates stuck in their current range for another couple weeks – waiting for the next headline.

Rate update: Tariff Twitter good for rates

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Jun 192018
 

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By G. Steven Bray

Rates have had it good lately:

– First up was the inflation report. It matched expectations. While this put the core rate at 2.2%, above the magic 2% mark, markets were worried it would be higher. Additionally, the Fed’s favored inflation metric, the PCE, continues to be below 2%.

– Next came the Federal Reserve. While the Fed raised short term rates as expected and increased the chances of a 4th rate hike this year, Chairman Powell said that he wasn’t concerned at all with inflation getting out of control and, maybe more importantly, that we’re getting closer to a “neutral Fed funds rate.” Analysts concluded that the trajectory of Fed policy is about as tight as it’s going to get, and bond markets sighed in relief.

– The next day brought the European Central Bank meeting. The ECB did announce it will end its asset purchase program by the end of the year, a negative for rates. However, it also said it doesn’t expect to hike rates until the end of next summer, and the ECB president made a case for economic weakness during his press conference. Bond markets cheered.

– Finally, we were treated to tariff Twitter. Markets don’t really care about the imbalances caused by prior administations’ trade policy. More important is the uncertain effects of the various proposed tariffs. I still say a full-blown trade war is unlikely. The targets of the tariffs have more to lose, and negotiation is the most likely outcome. However, the uncertainty may keep a lid on rates for now.

Rate update: The Quitaly effect

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Jun 052018
 

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By G. Steven Bray

As expected, the Italian drama was temporary, and interest rates moved back up last week. Fortunately, markets seem unconvinced that anxiety won’t return. Rates have leveled out for now during a fairly quiet week for economic data.

Next week could be a very different story. Both the Federal Reserve and European Central Bank meet, and output from those meetings has a high potential to affect the direction of rates. While it seems almost certain the Fed will raise short term rates again at this meeting, it’s Fed head Powell’s post-meeting press conference and the dot-plot that probably will garner the most market attention. Any suggestion that the Fed will be more aggressive could push rates back up to their recent highs.

I think the ECB has a greater chance to push rates the other way. It’s been hinting it will end it’s easy money policy in the near future. Confirmation of that is probably more likely than denial, but the ECB has been cagey in its responses to the rumors. It still could dissipate market energy without an outright denial.

Turning to economic data, we’ve been watching inflation lately. The PCE index, the Fed’s favored measure, continues to show tame inflation with the core reading still below the magic 2% mark. However, the jobs report showed wage inflation ticked up slightly. Other measures show even faster wage growth. As long as the PCE doesn’t accelerate, I suspect the Fed won’t change its rate hike trajectory, which is neutral for rates. However, if the Consumer Price Index starts to rise, it’s likely to change consumer and investor inflation expectations, and that would be bad for rates.

Rate update: The case for lower rates

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May 092018
 

For more information, please contact me at (512) 261-1542 or steve@LoneStarLending.com.

By G. Steven Bray

Mortgage rates seem to have plateaued again – waiting for the another source of inspiration to set them on a new course higher or lower. Which course is more likely?

The mainstream narrative is that higher rates are inevitable because of the factors we discussed a couple weeks ago, namely more government borrowing, less Federal Reserve accommodation, and continued economic growth.

These factors are undeniable. What we don’t know is the extent to which the market already has priced them in. Maybe rates have plateaued because they already reflect the risks associated with these factors. If that’s true, markets may increasingly pay attention to other factors that could lead to lower rates.

Consider the following:

– While the Fed’s favored measure of inflation, the PCE, moved higher, close to the Fed’s 2% target, it did so because very low inflation readings from last year are dropping out of the calculation. Moreover, transitory factors, hospital costs and oil prices, seem to be causing much of the recent rise.

– While the unemployment rate dropped below 4% for the first time since 2000, employment growth missed expectations for the second straight month, and wage growth also was below expectations.

– The economic expansion is long in the tooth. Talking heads increasingly are warning of a downturn just because it’s been so long since the last one. European economies already look softer.

– Global headlines are starting to grab market attention again. Israel is warning of imminent war in the Middle East, and the President’s withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal adds some uncertainty to the region. On the other side of the continent, while a trade war with China still seems unlikely, talk of it creates uncertainty, and uncertainty exerts downward pressure on rates.

– Finally, it’s probably not too soon for markets to start thinking about the effects of the mid-term elections.

I still think the upward forces on rates will remain stronger in the short term. However, absent some additional positive momentum, the chances are increasing that the next significant move for rates could be lower.

Rate update: The case against higher interest rates

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Feb 212018
 

For more information, please contact me at (512) 261-1542 or steve@LoneStarLending.com.

By G. Steven Bray

Last week’s inflation report validated investors’ fears about inflation. It ticked up ever so slightly. Interest rates took notice and resumed their march higher.

Here’s what I find interesting about the recent rally in bond yields. The only thing that’s really changed in the last couple months, economically speaking, is the tax plan. While that may add to the Federal debt, we doubled the Federal debt over the last ten years, and markets seemed to shrug. I find it hard to believe they’ve suddenly found religion on the matter.

Some pundits also like to cite Trump’s infrastructure plan as ballooning the debt. It might or it might not, but right now it’s nothing more than policy position. I don’t think it can explain the big jump in rates.

So, that brings us back to inflation. Reported inflation did tick up, but the core rate still is under 2%. It’s likely the uptick is a result of a roughly 50% increase in the price of crude oil since last summer.

I’m not suggesting that you sit around waiting for rates to fall again. However, I am suggesting that the rise has more to do with market action than with economic fundamentals. If I’m correct, that at least gives us hope that the forces for higher rates will abate soon.

Rate update: Inflation: fear or reality?

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: Inflation: fear or reality?
Feb 132018
 

For more information, please contact me at (512) 261-1542 or steve@LoneStarLending.com.

By G. Steven Bray

After rising to the highest levels in over 4 years, interest rates are catching their breath, but I think it’s temporary. As we’ve discussed, the rapid rise seems to be predicated to a large extent on fears that inflation finally will come out of hibernation. Remember that inflation erodes the value of a currency. Thus, investors insist upon higher yields when they anticipate it.

I don’t think the fears are wholly irrational for reasons we’ve discussed, but the reality is we’ve seen very few signs of inflation so far. That could change tomorrow with the release of the Consumer Price Index. This isn’t the Fed’s preferred inflation metric, but being the granddaddy of inflation reports, it’s probably the one markets watch most keenly.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid the downside risk for this report is greater than the upside gain. By that, I mean if the reported value shows even a tenth of a percent increase, rates could quickly rise another 1/8%. If the reading is level or even slightly lower than last month, it should be positive for rates, but I don’t think they’re likely to fall very quickly. Markets seem convinced that inflation is out there hiding somewhere. I think it would take a few more months of continued tame inflation readings before markets will believe again that inflation is not a concern.

So, if you haven’t locked your interest rate, floating through tomorrow carries an outsized risk. If your outlook is a couple months into the future, there’s still hope. The longer inflation doesn’t materialize to validate market fears, the better the chances rates will find a ceiling and provide us with a bounce lower.

Aug 282017
 

For more information, please contact me at (512) 261-1542 or steve@LoneStarLending.com.

By G. Steven Bray

Former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan has a warning. Interest rates are much too low, and he thinks they’re likely to move higher and quickly.

In a CNBC interview, Greenspan said he thinks the bond market is experiencing a bubble with long-term rates abnormally low. The low rates are the result of Fed taking short-term rates to near zero during the financial crisis and keeping them there for years.

The Fed has hiked short-term rates 4 times since then, but long-term rates remain near record lows. Analysts cite many reasons for this including political and economic uncertainty and, most importantly, persistently low inflation.

Greenspan says he doesn’t know when rates will start to rise, but he thinks it will be soon, and once they start rising, he thinks they will rise rapidly, which could put the rest of the economy at risk.