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By G. Steven Bray
What a difference a couple weeks make. Last week, the press was reporting the lowest mortgage rates since 2016. This week? Well, we lost a little ground. Rates rose about half a point in two weeks.
So, if you approach decisions cautiously (like I do) and didn’t jump into a refinance, are you out of luck? I think not, but you may have to practice a bit of patience. Last week’s bounce higher may have been nothing more than a market reaction to the rapidity with which rates fell at the end of Aug.
Recall back to earlier posts when we discussed the reasons rates were falling: Europe appears headed for a recession, Brexit remains unresolved, and China’s economy is slowing dramatically due to the ongoing trade dispute. On top of that, talking heads have spent the summer trying to talk the US economy into a recession. Little has changed to mitigate those concerns.
Given that, I think it’s likely rates will ooze back down again. The question is when. Here’s what I’m watching:
- The Federal Reserve meets this week, and pretty much everyone expects it to cut short term rates by a quarter point. That’s already priced into rates. What I’ll be watching is what the Fed puts in its post-meeting announcement and what Fed head Powell says at his press conference. If the Fed doesn’t acknowledge ongoing risks to the economy, rates will remain elevated longer.
- Second, US manufacturing data has been soft, but consumer data has remained strong. If consumers stop spending money, the US economy will be headed for a soft patch, and that will move rates lower.
- Finally, the trade war with China is hurting both countries, but it seems to be hurting China more. That may be softening China’s resistance to compromising on some of the thornier issues. A complete resolution seems unlikely anytime soon, but a thawing of positions might give markets confidence in the US economy and keep rates higher.