Jan 092019
 

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

By G. Steven Bray

Last Friday’s jobs report was strong. How strong? Well, the number of jobs created was the most for a Dec in 20 years. Average hourly earnings growth remained above 3% for the third consecutive month, and average hours worked also ticked higher. Revisions to previous months also were positive.

It would seem that the report would confirm market fear that the Federal Reserve will continue its rate-hiking campaign unabated. As we discussed last week, markets fear the Fed will choke off economic growth with rate hikes.

However, a couple other economic headliners also attended the party. First was last week’s ISM manufacturing report, which measures the strength of the manufacturing sector. It showed the greatest one month decline since the Great Recession. While the report’s index still shows good sector growth, the report is a leading indicator of economic activity. The jobs report, on the other hand, is a lagging indicator. So, even though the job market is very healthy, the ISM report could portend a coming economic slowdown.

The second headliner was a speech by Fed head Powell. Apparently, he wrote the speech before he saw the jobs report because it was very dovish. Basically, Powell said the Fed will be sensitive to market signals in setting its future rate policy. Well, the stock market loved this and went on a tear. Bond markets, which sank after the jobs report, sank further as investors sold bonds to buy equities. (Selling bonds raises interest rates.)

The question for rates is which version of reality is the correct one: a strong economy inviting further Fed tightening or a slowing economy leading to Fed restraint? Which version markets believe is likely to dictate whether we can hold the rate gains made over the holidays.

So far this week, markets seem to be leaning towards the slowing economy with a hedge. They’ve given up about a quarter of the rate gains and have leveled off waiting for further inspiration. That inspiration may come from this Friday’s inflation report. An elevated reading will likely send rates higher again, but a tame reading – in the 2% range – probably wouldn’t elicit any response.

I see one wildcard that could push rates either way – the China trade talks. I still think positive progress could make markets overlook the ISM reports and lay bets on a stronger economy again.

Jan 032019
 

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

By G. Steven Bray

The Christmas rate rally so far has extended into the new year. Mortgage rates are the lowest they’ve been since last spring. Let’s try to understand why so that we might predict if the lower rates will last – or might get even better.

The Christmas rate rally so far has extended into the new year. Mortgage rates are the lowest they’ve been since last spring. Let’s try to understand why so that we might predict if the lower rates will last – or might get even better.

The recent rally has coincided with a swoon in the stock market, and most pundits agree that the two markets are connected at this time. Money is moving out of stocks and into bonds. So, the source of these movements should be able to explain both markets.

The movement seemed to start over a month ago based on general concerns about the strength of the global economy. It gained momentum after the Dec Federal Reserve meeting at which the Fed raised short term rates for the fourth time in 2018. Markets expected that rate hike, but apparently they were expecting the Fed to acknowledge more forcefully rising risks to the global economy. The main concern is the Fed will miss market signals and hike rates too high too fast and choke the economy. The momentum accelerated this week with the release of US and Chinese economic data showing both economies may be slowing.

Okay, so let’s dig a little deeper and try to predict the future of rates. The movement seems predicated on a slowing economy, or dare I say, a pending recession. So far, US economic data shows slowing growth, but the data still is decidedly positive. About the only negative signals so far come from the housing market, which never fully recovered from the Great Recession and is suffering from a severe inventory shortage.

That said, business and consumer confidence are off their recent highs, and the stock market swoon could further erode confidence. A continuing government shutdown could exacerbate this situation. Remember that confidence reflects expectations, and expectations influence actions. If consumers and businesses start to have doubts about the direction of the economy, weakness could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

On the global stage, it seems clear that growth is slowing, but it’s unclear how much of this slowing reflects the ongoing trade dispute between the US and China. Should the countries resolve the dispute in the next few months, it could buoy market sentiment and put a quick end to our rally.

Rate update: Rising wages could thwart our rate rally

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: Rising wages could thwart our rate rally
Dec 052018
 

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

By G. Steven Bray

It’s another jobs report week, and this could be an important one for mortgage rates. Rates have been trending down slowly for the last couple weeks aided by low oil prices and concerns about the sustainability of economic growth. It’s the latter that should be of more interest to those wanting lower interest rates.

While US economic data remains strong, market sentiment has become more equivocal. Several factors have contributed to this turn.

– The Federal Reserve has hiked short term interest rates three times this year and seems likely to hike again in a couple weeks. Markets worry that higher rates are going to choke off growth by making it harder for consumers and businesses to afford debt. An indication of their concern is the Treasury yield curve, the yield difference between short and long term Treasury bonds. The difference is as small as it’s been since the last recession and could go negative soon. A negative, or inverted yield curve has been an accurate indicator of recessions for the last half century.

– Even though the US economy appears strong, other economies have softened, and the World Bank continues to lower its estimates for global growth. Brexit and the Italian budget crisis add further uncertainty to the mix. A global slowdown should increase the appetite for US debt and reduce inflationary pressures, both of which help interest rates.

– Finally, some investors are simply worried the current economic expansion has gone on too long, and they don’t want to get caught on the wrong side of trading when it ends.

The wildcard this week is the jobs report on Friday. Watch the wage component of the report. Wage growth has moderated slightly since it jumped earlier this year. If that moderation continues, markets are likely to consider it a validation of the recent decline in rates. If the report shows elevated wage pressures, our recent holiday from higher rates could come to an end very quickly.

Rate update: Trade war vs inflation

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

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

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

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: Tariff Twitter good for rates
Jun 192018
 

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

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

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: The Quitaly effect
Jun 052018
 

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

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

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: The case for lower rates
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.

Mortgages prefer sunshine

 Homebuyer Tips, Loan Guidelines  Comments Off on Mortgages prefer sunshine
Feb 212016
 

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

By G. Steven Bray

I’m not sure what to make of this, but I felt I needed to share. Check the weather forecast before you apply for a mortgage. Mortgage approval rates are higher when it’s sunny.

That’s the result of a study by the Cleveland Federal Reserve. It studied data from 1998 to 2010 and found that sunny days boosted approval rates by almost 1% while overcast days reduced approval rates by almost 1.5%. That may seem insignificant until you consider that the extra credit provided on a sunny day is about $150 million. Now, it seems significant.

But the result for gloomy days has a silver lining. It turns out sunny-day borrowers aren’t as financially responsible. Loans approved on sunny days have significantly higher default rates. Maybe that’s explains bankers’ penchant for golf.