Sep 162019
 

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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.

Rate update: Thank cheap Chinese imports for lower rates

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Aug 052019
 

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By G. Steven Bray

If you needed a recipe for a rate rally, just take a look at recent financial headlines. Friday, the President announced a tariff on an additional $300B worth of Chinese imports, and the investor herd started making flight-to-safety trades, buying up US bonds. When the demand for bonds is high, rates are low (because the bond issuers don’t have to offer as much interest to entice bond purchases).

Almost lost in the stampede was last Wed’s Fed rate cut and the good jobs report on Fri. Without the stampede, I’d hazard that we’d be stuck in the summer doldrums again, wondering when rates would move higher or lower. Fed head Powell hemmed and hawed when asked if the Fed would cut rates again this year, and the jobs report was strong enough to suggest a continuation of moderate economic growth. Neither provided a clear signal to investors.

But investors got their signal Fri and believe it was reinforced by weak global economic data today. On top of that, China devalued it currency overnight to levels not seen since the depths of the Great Recession.

That matters because it suggests a number of rate friendly effects. It suggests the trade war isn’t going to end soon. By devaluing its currency, China hopes to keep its good competitive despite the tariffs. Lower import prices lead to lower inflation, the mortal enemy of interest rates. And it increases the chances of a recession, and that increases the chances the Fed will have to lower short term rates even further.

As usually happens when Treasury rates fall so quickly, only a fraction of the gain has filtered through to mortgage rates. However, if Treasury rates remain in this new, lower range, mortgage rates eventually will catch up.

Rate update: What Fed’s Powell says is important

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Jul 302019
 

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By G. Steven Bray

This is a big week for interest rates. Not only do we have a lot of important economic reports, but the Federal Reserve is expected to announce it’s reducing short term interest rates by a quarter point. The Fed has been telegraphing the rate cut for weeks, so that really shouldn’t garner much attention. Instead, markets are going to be watching what Fed head Powell says in the post-meeting press conference.

Markets WANT the Fed to continue cutting rates at subsequent meetings this year, and the Fed’s forward guidance has indicated a willingness to do so – if economic conditions warrant it. So, I’m sure Powell will get peppered with questions trying to pin him down on that question. If he pulls back on future rate cuts, mortgage rates are likely to jump. Personally, I think he’ll thread the needle, showing a willingness to cut further, but saying the timing depends on economic data.

If that happens, markets will turn their attention to Friday’s jobs report. Last month’s report rebounded strongly from relatively weak May numbers. July’s economic data has been somewhat mixed, but generally positive. Consumer spending has buoyed the economy, making up for a slowdown in the manufacturing sector.

The problem is that the latter is more likely to be affected by slowing economies overseas. Thus, another strong jobs report still might not sway markets (or the Fed) from anticipating lower rates in the months to come, which probably would leave rates in their current range. On the other hand, if job growth shows a weakening trend, I suspect interest rates will follow that trend lower.

Rate update: Choppy waters ahead

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Jul 162019
 

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By G. Steven Bray

Following the surprisingly strong jobs report at the beginning of the month, mortgage rates have started edging up again – but without conviction. Rates are being affected by several factors right now, and those factors seem fairly balanced.

On the one hand, we have deteriorating economic conditions in Europe and China worrying investors of a global economic slowdown, which would push rates down. The Federal Reserve has acknowledged this ‘fear factor,’ which made markets very happy a couple weeks ago and supported lower rates.

On the other hand, US economic conditions remain healthy, as evidenced by the strong Jun jobs report earlier this month and today’s very strong retail sales report. On top of that, the inflation report last week came in a tad higher than expected, and inflation is the big enemy of low interest rates.

I expect rates to remain choppy and noncommittal until the end of the month when the Fed meets again. Based on Fed head Powell’s Congressional testimony last week, markets fully expect the Fed to cut short term rates by 25 bp at that meeting, so that action probably won’t move the needle. However, if the Fed fails to cut rates or cuts more than expected, watch out. And we’ll talk about those possibilities in the upcoming weeks.

Rate update: Rates are heading lower

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Jun 012019
 

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By G. Steven Bray

Interest rates have had an impressive rally the last couple weeks as investor sentiment has become decidedly dour. The rally began in earnest when the Chinese blew up the trade deal, but it’s taken on renewed life as talking heads have started tossing around the “R” word again.

Unfortunately for economic growth, now they have something on which to hang their hats. While employment growth and consumer sentiment still appear strong, some economic activity indicators are pulling back.

This may be a manifestation of the trade war, which means it could reverse if negotiators are able to craft a deal soon. However, other economies, particularly those of China and Germany, are slowing even more quickly. We may already be past the point of no return in terms of the next recession overseas.

So, what does this mean for mortgage rates? If you like lower rates, it’s all positive. It’s quite likely we haven’t seen the lowest rates of the year yet.

That said, it may take a while before that happens. It’s long-term Treasury rates, which readily respond to economic conditions, that have fallen so much recently. Mortgage rates are lagging behind for reasons that aren’t likely to change soon.

Even so, investor sentiment is such that traders may ignore a positive economic report, such as next week’s jobs report, and keep rates in their current, lower range, and over time, mortgage rates will catch up.

Rate update: The trade war blues

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May 212019
 

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By G. Steven Bray

Mortgage rates have moved very little this month, and it still seems like their next move is tied to the trade war. The announcement of new tariffs on Chinese goods created a nice little rally that brought rates down close to their lows for the year. But lately, it seems like every negative headline has been met with a conciliatory one, which has kept rates stable.

There is other news out there, and absent the trade headlines, it might move rates. Probably the most significant is the action in the Middle East. A new fighting war would roil markets everywhere and lead to lower rates.

Europe also has current crises of note. Great Britain still has a Brexit problem – deciding how it’s going to leave the European Union. Italy, on the other hand, just thumbed its nose at European Union austerity rules, and pundits once again are talking about the survivability of the EU.

In the US, we’re watching for economic data that indicates something other than a steady as she goes economy. The next big reports aren’t due for a couple weeks, culminating in the May jobs report due on Jun 7th. Analysts aren’t predicting any surprises based on recent economic activity.

And that brings us back to the trade war. Barring something extraordinary happening elsewhere in the world, I think the fate of interest rates depends on the success or failure of trade talks. Resolution would remove the biggest uncertainty for the economy and almost certainly would lead to higher rates.

Rate update: Trade war is our headliner again

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May 072019
 

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By G. Steven Bray

Last week’s two big ticket items, the Federal Reserve meeting and the jobs report, lived up to their billing. The Fed didn’t change policy, nor did the post-meeting announcement really make any waves. It was Fed head Powell, at his post-meeting press conference, who got things moving. He acknowledged that foreign economies look a little stronger than earlier in the year and was equivocal when asked whether the next rate move would be a cut or a hike. (Investors have been hoping for a cut.) Interest rates quickly bounced higher.

Then, we got the jobs report on Fri. The headline numbers were great: a solid beat on jobs created and the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years. However, wage growth was tepid, reinforcing concerns about falling inflation (which tends to depress rates). On top of that, the services sector report missed expectations. Interest rates edged down again, and it looked like we’d be riding the range a while longer.

This week set up to be rather quiet until Friday’s inflation report – until the Chinese pulled away from trade negotiations. Markets have been hopeful for a trade deal, so the president’s threat to impose new tariffs created waves of uncertainty. Investors responded to that by buying bonds, which pushed rates down.

So, where do we go from here? Given that multiple recent economic reports have agreed about receding inflation, it’s unlikely Friday’s Consumer Price Index is going to have much effect on rates. If the index surprisingly doesn’t agree with the other reports, rates may tick up a bit.

However, I suspect rates will rise or fall based on the trade talks. A further breakdown is bound to make investors nervous about a full blown trade war, leading to lower rates.

Rate update: Stuck in the middle again

 Interest Rates, Real Estate Market  Comments Off on Rate update: Stuck in the middle again
Apr 122019
 

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By G. Steven Bray

After a quick move lower following last month’s Federal Reserve meeting, mortgage rates have moderated a bit. Concerns of a global recession prompted the move lower, and the Fed seemed to add fuel to that concern with the changes to its policy stance, announcing what is in a sense version 5 of quantitative easing, which has helped keep rates low for years.

Rates rebounded a bit when investors realized the US economy certainly isn’t circling the drain. We’ve had two strong jobs reports, and retail sales rebounded after the government shutdown. The data isn’t as strong as it was last year, but it certainly doesn’t seem to indicate an imminent recession.

Overseas is another story. At its meeting this week, the head of the European Central Bank all but predicted a recession in Europe, and European economic data continues to weaken. Britain still hasn’t figured out how it’s going to leave the European Union, which breeds uncertainty, a close friend of low interest rates. And China’s economy also is slowing, and analysts worry that a resolution to the trade dispute may not be enough to stop the slide.

So, that’s the bad news – the news that’s pressuring rates lower. But investors see a US economy that seems to be chugging along. Thus, rates are stuck in the middle – not sure which force is going to be stronger. And they’re liable to stay that way until new headlines tip the scales.

Among the predictable headlines I’m watching right now are the Chinese trade talks and inflation data. I still believe a good trade deal penned in the next couple months will put some upward pressure on rates. However, it has to happen before the Chinese economy slips too far. On the inflation front, recent reports show inflation sliding lower again, which makes the Fed nervous. Receding inflation should put downward pressure on rates.

Rate update: 4 events that could break the range

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: 4 events that could break the range
Mar 132019
 

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By G. Steven Bray

Still riding the range. It’s not a bad place to be when mortgage rates are the lowest they’ve been in a year. This range has held for an unusually long time, and we’ve been looking towards this month as the time when the range finally might break down. There’s no sign of that yet, but let’s review some events that could make it happen.

US economic data probably carries the greatest weight. Most of the data this year has shown continued economic strength – until the Feb jobs report. The report didn’t just miss expectations, it was anemic. Could it be an outlier due to the government shutdown or seasonal factors? Possibly. The Jan number was oddly high. Regardless, the weak jobs report combined with this week’s tame inflation reports have bond buyers in a frisky mood, and that’s good for interest rates. Any additional weak economic data likely will get the recession whisperers going again, and rates could break lower.

The other elephant in the room is the ongoing Chinese trade talks. I still think a trade deal is likely to pump up rates a bit as it not only will remove impediments to economic growth, it will remove the uncertainty that acts like a weight on rates.

Foreign economic uncertainty carries less weight, but its pervasiveness at the moment may be giving it an over-sized effect. Brexit talks continue to flounder, and a no-deal divorce between Britain and the EU is full of unknowns. The European Central Bank last week again lowered its growth estimates and discussed stimulus measures to shore up the European economy. Chinese growth has cooled significantly, and recent data shows its manufacturing sector in contraction.

Finally, we have the Federal Reserve meeting next week. The Fed had a large part in setting up the current range with its about-face on rate hikes following its Dec meeting. Markets currently see little chance of the Fed raising interest rates soon. Should the Fed’s post-meeting announcement suggest otherwise, rates could make a quick jump higher.

Rate update: Range is a nice place to be

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: Range is a nice place to be
Feb 262019
 

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By G. Steven Bray

Mortgage rates remain range-bound, and fortunately for us the range is a pretty nice place to be. Rates are the best they’ve been since last summer. At some point, the range is going to break, so let’s look at the factors that may influence that break.

Rates hit their recent peak and started heading lower last Nov in response to stock market losses and concerns about the economy. The stock market has rebounded, and recent US economic data looks pretty rosy, so we don’t have those factors working for us anymore.

Trade concerns, especially the ongoing tariff battle with China, added uncertainty to the market, which put downward pressure on rates. However, it’s looking increasing possible that China and the US will resolve their trade issues and remove that as a factor.

Concerns about global economic growth have been a factor for a while, and those concerns seem to be intensifying. Recent data from Europe, China, and Japan have indicated weakening economies, and Europe still has its Brexit headache. Remember that slowing economies lead to less demand for money, which leads to lower rates.

But I’d say the biggest factor affecting rates right now is the Federal Reserve. It was the Fed meeting in Dec that put the exclamation point on the stock market swoon, and it was the Fed’s reaction to the swoon at its last meeting that solidified the current rate range. More recently, the Fed has hinted it may start buying bonds again, which would put more downward pressure on rates.

Despite those hints, Fed head Powell has been clear that the Fed is keenly interested in economic data (both US and global) and will respond accordingly. Most of the US data released this month was polluted by the government shutdown, and it won’t be until mid-Mar until that pollution clears – which could be the time rates finally leave the range.