Oct 292018

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By G. Steven Bray

A funny thing happened on the way to higher interest rates.

The sell-off in the equities market last week put a pause on rising interest rates as all of that cash from stock sales needed somewhere to go, and some of it found its way into the bond market. The pause was a welcome respite, but it still leaves mortgage rates near 7-year highs. But with all the turmoil in equities, the question is why aren’t rate doing better?

Market sentiment of late seems to have focused on two things: continued strength in the US economy and continued monetary tightening from the Federal Reserve. Both support higher interest rates, and with rising inflation metrics this summer, most investors were betting rates would move even higher.

But this week, the punch wore off, and investors realized higher rates might dampen US economic growth. At least, that’s what the talking heads said. Personally, I’m not convinced it was just higher rates that caused the market turmoil. Investors have been piling on the side of higher rates for months now, and with the relaxation of global uncertainties last month, I think investors grew complacent about the risks to the global economy. But the world is still a scary place. Some of those uncertainties have reared their heads again, which balanced the scales – at least momentarily.

This coming week is a big one for US economic data. Strong data could stoke rates higher again. The inflation scare from this summer has subsided a bit, but I suspect all eyes will be on this Friday’s jobs report, especially the wage component. Unless we get a big surprise earlier in the week, I’m betting markets will keep rates in a narrow range waiting for Friday.

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