Mar 262020
 

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

By G. Steven Bray

Quite simply, mortgage rates are all over the place right now, and the market is a mess.  Despite conspiracy theories you may be reading on social media, the government isn’t keeping rates artificially high to help Wall Street make a fat profit.  In fact, it’s because of government involvement that rates are as low as they are.

Let’s take a short look back.  It was only about 20 days ago that mortgage rates hit all time lows.  Those lows lasted all of a couple hours one morning – and then rates started moving quickly higher.  I discussed in my last blog some of the reasons that happened. In the simplest sense, it was due to basic economics.  There were a LOT of mortgage bonds to sell due to the record low rates, and there were very few buyers of those bonds due to market turmoil surrounding the coronavirus.  In order to clear the market, mortgage rates shot up over 5% in short order.

Since then, rates have been extremely volatile, falling back below 4% some days, then jumping back above 5%.  But I said the government has been keeping rates low. How does that jive with the volatility?

Well, this weekend, the Federal Reserve basically wrote a blank check – indicating it would purchase an almost unlimited amount of mortgage bonds to restore liquidity to the market.  That means markets can trade on the certainty that there will be a buyer for mortgage bonds. Now, that doesn’t guarantee low rates because the Fed is not setting the rates of the mortgages it buys.  Instead, it allows the market to set rates knowing there will be a buyer.

The desired result – which I think we’re beginning to see – is more restrained volatility.  Thirty-year rates were back below 4% the last couple days for most lenders, and despite continued volatility, have remained there.

Mar 162020
 

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

By G. Steven Bray

Over the weekend, the Federal Reserve cut the federal funds rate to zero, and it seems the whole world is asking today, “Where can I get that free money?”  And, unfortunately, you can’t. The reasons are a little complex, but let’s see if we can break it down a little.

First, you have to realize that the federal funds rate, and in fact all the rates the Fed directly sets, are very short-term rates.  Mortgage rates are long-term rates. They respond to different factors, and often move higher when the Fed rates are moving lower.

So, mortgage rates have been on a wild ride the last couple weeks with rates falling to record lows, then bouncing 25% higher in just one week.  The reason they fell so quickly is the same as the reason the Fed acted this weekend: the pandemic is slowing our economy. But it looks like the virus is going to be with us for a while, so why didn’t rates remain at record lows?  Let’s analyze the causes and predict what will happen over the coming weeks.

Mortgage rates are a reflection of the price investors are willing to pay for mortgage-backed securities – basically, your mortgage bundled with a bunch of others as an investment.  That price is influenced by a number of factors. We discuss some of those factors regularly, such as expectations for economic growth and expectations of inflation. It’s economic growth expectations that caused rates to plummet a couple weeks ago.

But we had other negative factors come into play last week.

  • – One of those factors we call runoff.  As we’ve discussed before, investors buy mortgage bonds expecting to earn interest over a number of years.  When mortgages pay off early, such as through refinance, investors actually may lose money. In response, investors lower the price they’re willing to pay for mortgage securities, which results in higher rates.
  • – A second factor is basic economics:  supply and demand. The drop in rates generated an enormous number of mortgage applications.  We didn’t have enough investors to absorb all that supply. On top of that, investors didn’t seem to be the mood to buy much of anything last week as prices dropped in most markets.
  • – Finally, lenders’ systems were overwhelmed with the volume of new applications, and many of them raised their rates as a means of throttling that volume.

So, what’s next?  While the federal funds rate announcement isn’t going to lead to lower rates, one of the Fed’s other actions may.  The Fed is stepping into the market to buy a small amount of mortgage-backed securities. It appears this is returning liquidity to the market as rates have dropped a little today.

It probably will take a few weeks to dissipate the other negative factors, but I suspect the positive factors, slowing economy and negligible inflation, will still be in place.  And once that happens, we could see record low mortgage rates again.

Rate update: Virus outbreak leads to lower mortgage rates

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: Virus outbreak leads to lower mortgage rates
Jan 282020
 

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

By G. Steven Bray

Tragedy can lead to uncertainty, and uncertainty is good for lower interest rates. The outbreak of the coronavirus in China has unsettled global markets, and investors are running to the safety of Treasury bonds. Investors are concerned the virus will seriously impact global growth. One analyst already is predicting the virus will shave 0.4% off global GDP, and the outbreak seems to be growing.

The effect on stock and Treasury bond prices has been much more significant than the effect on mortgage rates. Even so, mortgage rates are the lowest they’ve been in over 3 years.

If you’ve been watching for low interest rates, don’t procrastinate. As quickly as these rates have appeared they could evaporate. If the number of new cases of the virus starts to decline, markets may conclude the effects will be limited, and rates will snap back.

In that case, we’re back to watching economic data and events, which ramp up this week. The Federal Reserve meets today and tomorrow. While no one expects the Fed to change its current policy – no rate hikes or cuts until inflation or unemployment change significantly – investors love to parse the post-meeting statements for hidden meanings.

Next week we get the ISM reports and the Jan jobs report. The service sector of the economy has remained strong despite the trade disputes, but pundits have been predicting its deterioration for many months. Should the ISM report hint a downturn, rates could improve further. Likewise, should the jobs report deviate from its current trend, that could gets rates moving.

Rate update: Markets shrug off war drums

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: Markets shrug off war drums
Jan 082020
 

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

By G. Steven Bray

When I predict whether rates will rise or fall, I always issue the caveat “absent unexpected headlines.” Well, the past few days have provided a case in point. Rates dropped quickly following the US drone strike last week on the Iranian general and rose just as quickly today following the President’s address that suggested the crisis has passed.

Where does that leave us? Rates are stuck in the range again and waiting for inspiration. Potential sources for that inspiration are many, but let’s focus on a few of them.

First and foremost, if the Iranians don’t “stand down” as the President suggests, rates are certain to fall again. Renewed hostilities will make investors more cautious, and that caution will lead to lower interest rates.

Assuming that doesn’t happen, and markets currently seem confident it won’t, the next big event is this week’s jobs report. Recession whisperers were headliners on cable news last fall when it appeared the jobs market was softening. That changed with Dec’s blowout jobs report. Markets expect another strong report this Fri. Because of this expectation, its verification is unlikely to change rates much. Should the report disappoint, rates should improve a little.

Trade is the other major source of inspiration. The Senate is expected to pass the new trade deal with Mexico and Canada soon, and the President said he expects to sign a Phase 1 deal with China mid-month. Markets widely expect this to happen, so when it does, it’s unlikely to change market sentiment. Rates seem to be experiencing some slight upward pressure, and that probably would continue. However, should we experience a hiccup in either deal, we’d likely see at least a short-term drop in rates.

FHA loan limit tops $400,000 in Austin, DFW

 Loan Guidelines, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on FHA loan limit tops $400,000 in Austin, DFW
Dec 142019
 

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

By G. Steven Bray

Just before Thanksgiving, we found out the 2020 conforming loan limit increased to $510,400. Late last week, FHA released its 2020 loan limits. By statute, the minimum FHA loan limit is 65% of the conforming limit, or $331,760 for a single-family home.

However, FHA allows higher limits in areas where 115% of the median home price exceeds the minimum. In TX, higher limits apply once again in the Austin, San Antonio, Dallas-Ft. Worth, and Midland metros. Higher limits no longer apply for the Houston metro and Gillespie Co (city of Fredericksburg).

The San Antonio metro took the prize for the greatest increase this year both in dollar amount and percentage rise. The limit rose more than $33,000, or 9.3%, to $393,300.

The Midland area limit also rose significantly, by $23,000 or 7.2%, to $341,550.

The limit in the Austin and DFW metros both rose to $404,800, the highest in the state. The Austin limit was 3.8% higher than last year. The DFW limit was only 2.3% higher.

Remember that these limits apply to all the counties in the metro, not just the cities themselves. Also, these limits apply to single-family homes. Higher limits apply for two- to four-unit properties.

Rate update: Trade deal blues

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: Trade deal blues
Dec 132019
 

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

By G. Steven Bray

In the last week, bond markets pretty much have confirmed that the only thing that matters is the trade dispute with China. Last Fri, we got a blowout jobs report. In previous times, rates might have jumped at least an eighth of a point in response. This time – nothing. Wed, Fed head Powell said the Federal Reserve won’t raise short-term rates unless inflation moves up significantly. Given that inflation seems mired below the Fed’s target rate, that comment should have caused jubilation in bond world leading to lower rates. Did it? Nope.

Now to be totally honest, both events did cause short term ripples within the markets, but rates never left their current range. It seems pretty obvious that traders are waiting for something before placing their bets on higher or lower rates.

That something is real factual news about the trade dispute. New tariffs are scheduled to begin this Sunday, and this time the tariffs target consumer products.

You can understand traders’ reluctance to pick a side. Many analysts believe the new tariffs, as proposed, will sap consumer demand. The American consumer has been the sustaining force in the economy this year. It doesn’t matter how good the economic data was last month. If the tariffs go into effect, it’s possible the data turns negative next month.

Now, it’s certain that the Trump Administration recognizes this. It’s also certain that the Chinese recognize the intense pain the tariffs could cause it’s already faltering economy. Thus, both sides have an incentive to announce a last minute reprieve, and it appears today they’ve done so. But the bigger question still remains: Will we get a trade deal?

Congress eliminates VA loan limits

 Loan Guidelines, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Congress eliminates VA loan limits
Dec 072019
 

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

By G. Steven Bray

Starting Jan 1st, Veterans and servicemembers who are entitled to VA loan benefits are eligible for 100% financing regardless of the home’s price. The Blue Water Navy Act, passed by Congress earlier this year, has removed the loan limit for a VA loan.

Previously, federal law tied the maximum guaranty amount for a VA loan to the Freddie Mac conforming loan limit. This meant that in 2019 if a veteran wanted to purchase a home priced greater than the loan limit (just north of $484,000), the Veteran was responsible for 25% of the amount above that limit.

With the change, Veterans with full VA loan entitlement now can borrow the full amount of the purchase price without needing to factor a down payment. However, for Veterans with diminished entitlement, either from having an active loan or a default on a previous VA loan, VA still calculates their remaining entitlement based on the Freddie Mac loan limit.

The Act also changes the VA funding fee. Starting Jan 1st, the no down payment Funding Fee will be 2.3% for first-time use for all Veterans, whether Regular Military, National Guard, or Reserves. This is a slight increase for Regular Military, but a decrease for others. For subsequent VA loans, the Funding Fee rises to 3.6% for all. Congress intended the increase to fund other benefits that are part of the Act.

The Act also provides a new Funding Fee exemption for active duty servicemembers who have been awarded a Purple Heart.

A half million dollar home loan with a low down payment

 Loan Guidelines, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on A half million dollar home loan with a low down payment
Dec 062019
 

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

By G. Steven Bray

Congress tasked the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) each year to reset conforming loan limits based on the change in the average U.S. home price for that year. FHFA reported that home prices rose 5.38% last year, so accordingly, it increased the loan limit by the same amount to $510,400 for a single-family home.

A conforming loan is one eligible for purchase by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government behemoths that control most of the home loan market. Except for government loan programs, Fannie and Freddie programs offer the best combination of low interest rates and low down payment requirements. For both the minimum down payment is 3%; thus, it’s now possible to purchase a half million dollar home with a $15,000 down payment.

Higher loan limits apply in certain “high cost” areas where 115% of the local median home price exceeds the new limit; however, FHFA hasn’t identified any of those “high cost” areas in TX. Higher limits also apply to two, three, and four unit properties.

Tracking the rising loan limit over the last few years gives a good sense of how quickly home prices have been rising. In 2017 the single-family loan limit first rose from its Congressionally-mandated value of $417,000. In three years, the limit has risen 22%.

The new limits are effective for loans that close starting Jan 1st, which means they will apply for homebuyers who are shopping for a new home now (assuming a normal 30-day closing).

FHA sets its loan limit independently of Fannie and Freddie, and I’ll report on it next week.

Rate update: All I want for Christmas is a trade deal

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: All I want for Christmas is a trade deal
Dec 042019
 

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

By G. Steven Bray

I hope you and your family had a blessed Thanksgiving. It was a fairly uneventful one for bond markets with interest rates sticking to their recent range. In fact, rates have been stuck in this range since Sep. Sure, rates move a little week to week in response to headlines and economic data, but I still think the next trend for rates ultimately depends on a trade deal with China, an imminent resolution to which is looking increasingly unlikely.

The main wildcard at this time is the global economy. Earlier in the year, rates dipped invitingly based on weak economic data coming out of Europe and China. There was great concern that the US economy would follow suit. Instead, the US economy, except for manufacturing, showed resillence and even robustness in sectors such as housing. Europe and China now seem to be bottoming out, and some analysts are predicting renewed global growth next year.

As we’ve discussed many times, a growing economy tends to push up interest rates, so that’s the background through which we have to consider our current situation. A trade deal, even a partial one, is likely to foster renewed optimism and, in turn, economic growth. On the other hand, should the trade dispute deepen, it’s likely the hand-wringing and talk of recession will start again. While that’s good for lower interest rates, we risk talking ourselves into a recession regardless of the strength of our economy.

Rate update: Two reasons interest rates will remain flat this week

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: Two reasons interest rates will remain flat this week
Nov 122019
 

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

By G. Steven Bray

I’ve been writing for months about my concern about the Chinese trade dispute and its potential to move interest rates. Last week presented a poster child case for my concern. Rumors circulated that the US would rescind some tariffs and forego the planned Dec tariffs to induce the Chinese to sign phase one of a trade deal. Bond traders reacted swiftly to push rates to their highest levels in 3 months. Remember that resolving the trade dispute is considered good for the economy, and a healthy economy supports higher interest rates.

As we start this week, it looks like markets may be taking a breather. President Trump wouldn’t confirm the tariff rumors, and most of the other issues that had been weighing on rates – slowing world economies, Brexit, the impeachment battle – are far from settled. So, hitting pause makes sense while markets wait for a new source of inspiration.

I doubt we’ll get it this week, but we will have a couple candidates:

  • We’ll get two heavy-weight economic reports this week: the Consumer Price Index (CPI) measuring inflation and the Retail Sales Report. Inflation has remained muted this year, and few, including the Fed, expect that to change. Retail sales, an indicator of the consumer side of the economy, have remained solid despite the trade dispute, and most expect that to continue. If either report deviates significantly from expectations, expect interest rates to move accordingly.
  • Second, Fed head Powell has two days of Congressional testimony this week. Given that Powell had a press conference following the Fed’s meeting two weeks ago, I don’t expect he’ll reveal anything during his testimony that will move rates. However, markets will be vigilant just in case.