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.

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.

Rate update: Investors think Fed is done raising rates

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Feb 122019
 

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

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

By G. Steven Bray

The Federal Reserve gave rate watchers a great gift a couple weeks ago – assurances that it’s well aware of the potential for slowing economic growth. Markets reacted with a big rally, and analysts now predict the chances of the Fed lowering rates before the end of the year as high as the chances it will raise rates again.

However, lost in the excitement was the Fed’s reiteration that it will tweak its plans based on economic data. Two days after the Fed meeting, the Jan jobs report crushed expectations, and other economic reports showed the economy still seems to be humming along.

Investors still have other concerns: the government funding deal, the Chinese trade dispute, and weakening global growth. All have created uncertainty that’s counteracting the good news on the economy, and that seems to be keeping rates trapped in a very narrow range.

So, what to watch? Personally, I don’t think anyone in Washington wants another shutdown, and I think markets already expect the compromise to pass. Chinese trade, on the other hand, could be a market mover. As long as a trade deal remains elusive, I think rates will remain capped. If a trade deal happens, watch out for higher rates. Even then, I think global growth concerns will remain background uncertainty that keeps rates from rising too fast.

We have one other issue to watch. The Fed meets again in mid-Mar. Based on the Fed’s last post-meeting announcement and press conference, markets seem convinced the Fed has hit the pause button on tighter monetary policy. If the Fed’s dot plot in Mar continues to show more rate hikes, or if Fed governors over the next month backtrack on their earlier caution, look for rates to rise again.

Rate update: Rates couldn’t care less about the shutdown

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Jan 282019
 

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By G. Steven Bray

The end of the government shutdown removed one element of uncertainty for markets, but clearly it wasn’t a critical one as interest rates barely moved in response. I half expected a little volatility today, the first trading day after the government reopened. Instead, the day passed quietly. I suspect that’s because more important events await us this week.

First up is the Federal Reserve meeting, which ends on Wed. No one expects the Fed to change interest rates at this meeting, but pretty much everyone expects the Fed to soften its attitude towards future rate hikes. It also will be interesting to see what the Fed says about the effects of the shutdown. I suspect markets already have priced in a more dovish Fed. Thus, if the attitude, as reflected in the post-meeting announcement, hasn’t changed, watch out for higher rates.

Friday brings the Jan jobs report. No one knows exactly how the shutdown effected employment. While furloughed government workers were counted among the employed, employees of contractors that were sidelined by the funding lapse may have been counted as unemployed.

Analysts are predicting employers created about half as many jobs in Jan as in Dec; however, count me among the skeptics about whether analysts have captured the extent of the shutdown effect. One thing is likely: if the actual number of jobs differs significantly from the predictions, talking heads will do what they do best – talk – and markets will be choppy.

Finally, keep an eye on the China trade talks. Markets have been reacting to pretty much every headline the past couple weeks. That partly may have been because the shutdown bottled up economic data investors use to make trading decisions. However, I suspect markets would have been reacting anyway. Chinese economic data seems to show the trade war has significantly affected its economy. Positive headlines allow investors to think maybe the world’s economy isn’t really slowing, and equity markets rally in response. That’s been a negative for interest rates, and I suspect more positive headlines will bring more of the same.

Rate update: Will party poopers spoil our lower rates

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Jan 092019
 

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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.

Rate update: The reason rates are rallying

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Jan 032019
 

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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: Rate rally ran out of steam

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Dec 112018
 

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By G. Steven Bray

The jobs report last week didn’t disappoint, but it didn’t excite either. Sure, the headline number of jobs created missed expectation, but the miss wasn’t huge by historical standards. Wage growth continued, albeit at a moderate pace. All in all the report did little to help bond markets decide whether the economy is slowing. Markets reacted as they’re wont to do in these situations – by shifting into sideways mode.

So, we keep looking for that source of market inspiration. Next up on Wed is the Consumer Price Index, the granddaddy of inflation reports. Since stoking inflation fears this summer, the report in recent months has suggested that inflation has waned once again. But like last week’s read on wage inflation, any uptick in consumer inflation could quickly erase the rate gains we’ve made since Thanksgiving.

If that report doesn’t give markets inspiration, next week’s Federal Reserve meeting might. Most analysts expect the Fed to raise short term interest rates for a fourth time this year, so doing that is unlikely to affect longer term rates like mortgage rates. Any effect is already baked in.

However, it’s what the Fed says after the meeting that probably will carry the most weight. Recent speeches by Fed governors have indicated the governors sense some risks to continued economic growth. If they translate those feelings into the post-meeting communication, rates could enter rally mode again. That said, I think a more likely outcome is an equivocal statement that leaves rate drifting through the end of the year absent something unexpected.

Rate update: Rising wages could thwart our rate rally

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Dec 052018
 

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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: Wages vs oil prices

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Nov 282018
 

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By G. Steven Bray

After a rather quiet Thanksgiving week, bond markets that determine interest rates begin the Christmas countdown, well, quietly. Mortgage rates remain near the bottom of their recent range. It’s almost as if they’re waiting for something, but what could that be?

I think they’re staring at two events looming on the horizon. First up is next week’s jobs report. Recent reports have shown the economy is humming, and wages are rising. It’s the wage component of the report that may garner the most attention. Rising wages usually translate into inflation, and inflation is the enemy of low interest rates.

The second event is the Federal Reserve’s Dec meeting at which it’s expected to raise short term rates another quarter point. It may be counter-intuitive, but that could be a good thing for lower mortgage rates. Talk is growing louder that the Fed is hiking rates too quickly, and not just from the President. Remember that bond traders determine rates, and traders are people. If traders think Fed rate hikes are going to stifle the economy, they may push rates down in acticipation of a weaker economy regardless of what they’re spending on Christmas.

I’ll give you one other data point to watch. Oil prices have been on a tear recently – lower. The price of oil factors into the cost of so many goods that its collapse has taken some of the wind out of the sails of inflation hawks. I suspect rates will have a hard time rising much as long as oil prices remain down.

Rate update: Giving thanks for lower rates

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Nov 192018
 

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By G. Steven Bray

Starting this holiday week, we find mortgage rates still hanging out in the same range they’ve held since the first part of Oct, albeit at the lower end of that range thanks to “flight to safety” market action last week. And it’s that action that possibly could deliver an early Christmas present of lower rates in the upcoming weeks.

First, let’s get through this week. Holiday weeks like this tend to produce limited overall rate movement because few traders are tuned in. In the odd case that remaining traders push rates higher or lower, the market probably will self-correct next week absent some unexpected headline. My conclusion is if you aren’t risk averse, odds are you’ll see similar rates next week given the current market sentiment.

Looking out a little further, we have the most positive outlook for lower rates that we’ve had since summer. While the US economy still looks incredibly strong, global conditions aren’t quite as rosy. Economists are starting to sound alarm bells about slowing global growth. On top of that, recent headlines about Brexit, the Italian budget drama, and emerging market difficulties are like wind gusts embedded in an increasing headwind.

Traders mostly had been ignoring these negative factor given the prospects for rising US inflation, increased government borrowing, and the Federal Reserve’s apparent rate hike plan, all of which support higher rates. However, last week’s inflation report showed inflation remains tame. Friday, the Fed’s Vice Chair acknowledged the potential effects of slowing global growth on the US economy, which made traders question the rate hike plan.

Overall, I think momentum favors slightly lower rates, but if you’re going to float your rate, be cautious. The US economy is still a powerhouse, and I’m not convinced yet we’ve seen the highest rates of this cycle.