Last Week in Review: Recession Fears Emerge
This past week, home loan rates improved slightly in response to growing fears of a recession. Let’s walk through what happened and discuss what to look for in the week ahead.
“What we need to see is inflation coming down in a clear and convincing way, and we’re going to keep pushing until we see that.” Fed Chair Jerome Powell May 17, 2022.
The Consumer is Still Spending
Last Monday, Retail Sales for April came in better than expectations, showing the consumer remains a bright spot in the U.S. economy. Despite soaring energy prices, consumers spent on automobiles, restaurants, and travel.
Consumer spending makes up nearly 70% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), so we need to see the consumer continue to spend if we want our economy to expand. A tight labor market should help the consumer continue to drive economic growth for now.
Single-Family Housing Starts are Stalling
The National Association of Home Builders reported new single-family house construction stalled in April in response to “weaker confidence in the single-family market, as rising mortgage rates and building material construction costs are driving more potential buyers out of the market,” per Jerry Konter, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
Overall Housing Starts for April remain steady, thanks to a surge in multi-family dwellings. It’s clear that demand for housing remains strong and the current tight labor market should continue to drive this demand, despite the uptick in rates.
Target Misses Target
“We faced unexpectedly high costs, driven by a number of factors, resulting in profitability that came in well below our expectations, and well below where we expect to operate over time,” said Target CEO Brian Cornell.
Soaring diesel costs and lingering supply chain issues were the main drivers cutting their profit margins. Cornell also shared that Target shoppers are concerned about ‘the high and persistent inflation they’ve been experiencing, particularly in food and energy.’
Shoppers continued to buy daily essentials, but as prices increase, consumers aren’t splurging on bigger-ticket items. This reflects how inflation works, if consumers are paying too much on energy and food, they will not spend money on other items.
In Comes Recession Fears
As mentioned earlier, if consumer spending slows, GDP will decline and if we endure back-to-back negative growth quarters of GDP…that would meet the textbook definition of a recession.
Stocks did not like the reports from Target and other retailers like Best Buy and Walmart and sold off sharply. Also pushing stocks lower is the idea the Fed will hike rates too much and push the economy into a recession, in order to lower inflation pressures.
The selling pressure on stocks came to the benefit of rates as the 10-year yield moved from 3.00% to 2.78% between Wednesday and Thursday.
Bottom line: Home loan rates are showing signs of peaking with rates hovering near current levels over the last month. Uncertainty and volatility around inflation, the Fed, and economic growth will continue to push rates and stocks around. If you are considering a purchase transaction, now is a great time to lock.
Last Week In Review: CPI High, Rates Sigh
This past week, home loan rates bounced around in a volatile fashion in response to more of the same…Fed speaks, inflation readings, and uncertainty. Let’s walk through what happened and discuss what to look for in the week ahead.
“Although the task is difficult, it is not insurmountable. We have the tools to return balance to the economy and restore price stability, and we are committed to using them,” New York Fed President, John Williams.
One week after the first .50% rate hike in 22 years, there were many Fed officials out using soothing rhetoric in an attempt to reassure financial markets they will be able to lower inflation while maintaining economic growth. Fed rate hikes and balance sheet reduction are intended to help slow consumer demand and there is now a growing fear the Fed will “overcook” the rate hikes and slow the US economy into a recession.
Stocks are sharply lower in 2022 and one of the main drivers is fear of a sustained economic slowdown. If the economy slows down, consumer demand will slow and that would likely lead to lower long-term rates, like mortgages. Bond yields or rates may already be giving us a sense that long-term rates may be close to peaking. The 10-yr Note backed well off its Monday high of 3.20% to reach 2.82% by midweek.
Inflation Has Not Yet Peaked
The April Consumer Price Index (CPI) was reported on Wednesday, and it was a bad surprise. The headline CPI, which includes food and energy prices, came in at a scorching 8.1% year over year. This, despite seeing an energy pullback in April. Energy prices have since moved higher, with diesel hitting all-time highs, so we should expect May’s headline CPI print to remain higher than we would like.
The big disappointment was the higher-than-expected Core CPI, which removes energy and food. This month-over-month reading came in at a blistering 0.6% to bring the year-over-year reading to 6.2%, more than three times hotter than the Fed’s target of 2% over the longer term.
“There are things we can do and we can address. That starts with the Federal Reserve, which plays a primary role in fighting inflation” President Biden.
President Biden reaffirmed the Fed’s mandate of maintaining price stability or inflation. The challenge for the Fed? The Fed tightens monetary conditions and slows down demand by hiking rates. These rate hikes will not do much, if anything, to help lower energy and food costs. With energy being a component in many goods and services, we should expect headline inflation to remain stubbornly high for some time.
A Long-Term Trend Remains Our Friend
For those considering a home purchase and worrying about rising rates, there is a positive trend to consider.
Over the last 40 years, every time the Fed hiked rates the 10-yr Note yield never reached the peak from the previous hiking cycle. The 10-yr Note hit 3.20% this past Monday and the previous peak was 3.25% – the last time the Fed hiked rates in 2018. Could we have hit a rate peak this week? Time will tell.
Bottom line: Home loan rates remain on a trend higher. Uncertainty and volatility around inflation, the Fed, and economic growth will continue to push rates and stocks around. If you are considering a purchase transaction, now is a great time to lock.
Last Week in Review: The Fed Takes Action
This past week, the Federal Reserve hiked the Fed Fund Rate by .50%, the largest rate increase in 22 years. Let’s discuss what other action the Fed took, how the market reacted and what to look for in the week ahead.
“I would like to first speak to the American people. Inflation is much too high, and the Fed understands the hardship and is moving expeditiously to bring down inflation.” Fed Chair Jerome Powell – May 4, 2022.
How does the Fed move to bring down inflation? Raise rates and tighten monetary conditions. And this started last Wednesday when the Fed raised the Fed Funds rate by .50%. In a separate measure, the Fed will also begin shrinking its enormous $9T balance sheet of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities (MBS).
It is important to remember that this hike in Fed Funds Rate has no direct effect on home loan rates. Oddly enough, the measures the Fed is taking to lower inflation help preserve the value of long-term bonds like MBS. If the Fed is successful in bringing down inflation, it will help long-term bond prices improve and long-term rates remain relatively stable.
The lift to the Fed Funds Rate will immediately impact all short-term loans, like auto loans, credit card debt, and home equity lines of credit. Increasing these rates is expected to slow consumer demand, which in effect will slow price increases.
Powell gave the market comfort when he said there was “a good chance to have a soft landing”. Meaning the Fed can continue to raise rates more and slow demand without pushing the economy into a recession.
How much more will the Fed hike rates? The Fed Chair signaled they are likely to raise rates by another .50% in both June and July. Of course, making these moves will depend on the incoming data. This means we should continue to expect high-interest rate volatility around key economic reports like inflation, GDP, and the labor market.
“Beginning on June 1, principal payments from securities held in the System Open Market Account will be reinvested to the extent that they exceed monthly caps.” FOMC announcement on balance sheet reduction.
The balance sheet reduction announcement means the Fed will be buying fewer bonds going forward. This is the opposite of what the Fed did through Quantitative Easing where they purchased $120B worth of Treasuries and MBS every month. It is not yet truly clear what will happen to home loan rates once the process in June commences as the Federal Reserve has only once shrunk the balance sheet for a limited amount of time back in 2018.
“It’s a strong economy and nothing about it suggests it’s close to or vulnerable to a recession. We have a good chance to restore price stability (lower inflation) without a recession”. Jerome Powell.
These words initially provided some comfort to both stocks and rates, but come Thursday, after sleeping on it, interest rates crept higher with MBS prices hitting 11-year lows and the 10-yr Note yield touching 3.09%.
Despite the Fed Chair saying the Fed is not considering a .75% rate hike, the markets finished the week assigning a very high probability the Fed will hike by .75% in June.
Bottom line: Home loan rates are at an important juncture. While MBS attempt to stabilize, there is a real threat they can go another leg higher and fast. If you are considering a purchase transaction, now is the time to lock.
Last Week in Review: Feb and Bond Market Are Quiet for a Change
This past week was a bit quiet as no Federal Reserve officials were talking to move the market. However, this changes next week, as we approach the highly anticipated FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) Meeting. Let’s discuss what to look for as we wait on the Fed.
Last week was the “quiet period,” where no Fed officials talked about the economy or monetary policy seven days before the upcoming Fed meeting. The U.S. bond market embraced the quiet and lack of jawboning with rates improving slightly from the previous week.
Ironically, Fed President James Bullard recently said the “bond market was not a safe place to be”…and what we watched last week was the opposite. Amidst high uncertainty in Asia and an economic slowdown in China, investors around the globe sought the “safe-haven” of the U.S. Treasury market, which also helped home loan rates improve a bit.
The One Rate the Fed Can’t Control
“There is an obvious need to move expeditiously to a more neutral level and more restrictive levels if needed to restore price stability,” Fed Chair Jerome Powell, March 2022.
This quote from Fed Chair Jerome Powell at the March Fed Meeting highlights the Fed’s desire to lift the Fed Funds Rate 2.00% or more from current levels. The Fed wants the short-term rate to be “neutral” where it neither helps nor hurts the economy.
The Fed can’t control long-term rates like mortgages or the 10-year note yield which are influenced by inflation and economic growth. Until now, long-term rates have gone up solely on inflation fears and the tough talk of the Fed.
Next week, expectations are for the Fed to hike the Fed Funds Rate by .50%. This will have no impact on home loan rates. Much like 2018 when the Fed hiked rates a 4th time, mortgage rates improved dramatically as it was perceived the Fed was going to slow the economy too much with more rate hikes. Time will tell what the Fed will be able to do in this rate hiking cycle. There are heightened signs that the Fed won’t be able to hike as much which includes U.S. economic growth slowing quickly from last year’s pace.
The 10-year note yield, currently at 2.84%, is below its peak of 2.98% seen on 4/20. If it remains beneath 3.0%, we will continue to see much-needed signs of stabilization in home loan rates. However, if the 10-year spikes again and moves back above 3.0%, we should expect home loan rates to move another leg higher.
The first read on Q1 2022 GDP showed that within the data, the inflation reading Core PCE (Personal Consumption Expenditure) continued to rise while growth fell 1.4% from the near 7% read in Q4 2021. Slow growth and high inflation paint an uncertain future.
Bottom line: Home loan rates are at an important juncture. While MBS attempt to stabilize, there is a real threat that rates can move another leg higher and fast. If you are considering a purchase transaction, now is the time to lock.
Last Week in Review: Smoke Signals Emerge
This past week, home loan rates touched the highest level in a decade as global bond yields were on the rise. Let’s discuss some potentially positive signals for those looking for a rate peak as well as what to watch for next week.
The rate of change or the speed at which home loan rates have moved higher is historic. It has also elevated uncertainty and fear that rates will continue to skyrocket higher.
This past week, a New York Fed survey of renters believed mortgage rates will reach 8.23%…in three years. A dire forecast for rates that could only be achieved IF the economy is strong enough to sustain or absorb that sort of increase. Seeing that the housing market has stalled, to a degree, with home loan rates at 5.00%, it’s probably highly unlikely we see rates move that high. This survey can be viewed as a potential contrarian indicator meaning…when so many people believe something will happen, the opposite generally happens.
Another potential contrarian indicator has emerged. U.S. bond outflows are surging. U.S. investors have sold or cashed in their mutual fund bond holdings at record levels in 2022. When retail investors or everyday people are all “fearful” and doing the same thing, like selling bonds, it often represents a sign the market is likely to turn, which in this case could mean a peak in rates could be upon us. Think about the psychology of everyone in the stock market with no fear – this is exactly the time when the stock market can turn lower. Hence, Buffet’s other quote ” Be fearful when others are greedy.”
Gas tank, Food or Stranger Things
Netflix reported its first subscriber loss in more than a decade, when Wall Street was expecting the firm was to add users. The major reason for the stunning decline in users was soaring food and energy costs. The additional burden to put gas in the tank or food on the table has forced many to give up the service. The breaking news from Netflix is giving us early signs that consumers are feeling the pinch.
This brings into question, can the Fed hike rates aggressively as they have been saying? The Fed is in a unique position, because even if they raise rates, that will not help lower oil or energy prices, which is the main cause of inflation at this time.
Federal Reserve Getting Its Housing Wish
Last year, in front of Congress, Fed Chair Jerome Powell was pressured to stop buying mortgage-backed securities (MBS), to remove the “froth” out of the housing market. After the sharp increase in rates since November, we are starting to see signs of “froth” coming out of housing.
Redfin reported that 13% of online home listings lowered their price. This as Black Knight reported that affordability, as measured by mortgage payment versus monthly income, hit a 15-year low.
For affordability to improve, we need to see home price gains slow and for rates to remain at or beneath current levels.
Bottom line: Interest rates remain on the rise and the words of central bankers around the globe last week have added to the uncertainty and volatility. If you are considering a mortgage, now is an ideal time to lock as the path of least resistance for rates remains higher even though a peak could be near.
Last Week In Review: A Tale of Two Inflations
This past week, home loan rates hit the highest levels in nearly a decade as inflation readings came in touching 40+ year peaks. Let’s discuss what happened and what to watch for.
Headline Consumer Inflation vs Core Consumer Inflation
Interest rates around the globe have been on the rise in response to inflation fears and uncertainty surrounding Federal Reserve rate hikes. The next Fed meeting is on May 4th and at that time the market is expecting a 0.50% hike in the Fed Funds Rate. Also on the table, is an announcement to start the balance sheet reduction, which could put more upward pressure on long-term rates.
The rate of consumer inflation will determine what the Fed will do going forward. On Tuesday, we received the important Consumer Price Index (CPI) Index. There are two inflation readings to follow, the headline figure, which includes food and energy costs, and the more closely watched Core reading, which strips out food and energy.
The headline CPI came in at 8.5% year over year. The important month-over-month reading, which determines the near-term trend, showed a higher than expected 1.2% increase or a 14.4% annualized rate!
The Core CPI reading came in at 6.5% year-over-year, driven by a relatively small 0.3% month-over-month rise. Both figures were cooler than expectations. In the words of Fed Governor Lael Brainard – this was a “welcome” sign.
The core inflation number is more closely watched by the Fed and the financial markets as that is the price of everything outside of food and energy. If core inflation continues to moderate in the months ahead, the Fed will not likely raise rates as aggressively as the markets currently fear.
Ironically, the headline and more energy-based inflation may be a reason why the core inflation number was lower. If people are paying more money to fill their tanks and heat their homes, it will come at the expense of all other purchases. How do these other products get purchased? Lower the price.
Consumer spending makes up two-thirds of our economic growth. So when you hear this fresh chatter regarding a recession in the U.S., it suggests the consumer will dramatically stop spending on items outside food and energy.
This could happen further down the road if we are unable to reign in energy costs.
Europe has Inflation Issues
Across the pond, European Central Bank (ECB) President Christine Lagarde shared these words which pushed interest rates higher around the globe:
There are “three main factors that are likely to take inflation higher” going forward.
- Energy prices are expected to stay higher for longer.
- Pressure on food inflation is likely to increase.
- Global manufacturing bottlenecks are likely to persist in certain sectors.
Note: The similar theme abroad is the high headline (food and energy) cost while their economy slows from a lack of spending outside those items. The European economy is performing worse than the U.S. and their central bank is reacting even slower to inflation than our Fed. Their interest rates are 0.50% and there is no timeline to increase them. Additionally, the ECB will continue to purchase bonds to keep rates low until the 3rd Quarter of this year.
The good news? If rates stay low around the globe, it will help keep our rates relatively low.
Shortest Unemployment Line in 52 Years
Initial Jobless Claims are being reported at levels last seen in 1970. This is wonderful for housing as jobs buy homes. A potential problem could be wage-based inflation as it takes more money to attract talent.
The Fed’s dual mandate is to maintain price stability (inflation) and promote maximum employment. We will wait to see if the Fed can perform a “soft landing” where inflation comes down without hurting the economy or labor market.
Bottom line: Interest rates remain on the rise. And the words of central bankers around the globe last week have added to the uncertainty and volatility. If you are considering a mortgage, now is an ideal time to lock in as the path of least resistance for rates remains higher.
Last Week in Review: Brainard and Fed Minutes Move the Markets
This past week, home loan rates touched the highest levels in three years in response to the same theme…inflation fears and forthcoming Fed rate hikes, and balance sheet reduction. Let’s discuss what happened and what to watch for next week.
“Given that the recovery has been considerably stronger and faster than in the previous cycle, I expect the balance sheet to shrink considerably more rapidly than in the previous recovery, with significantly larger caps and a much shorter period to phase in the maximum caps compared with 2017-19.” Fed Governor Lael Brainard.
This was the quote that changed interest rates in a “New York Minute.” Why? Governor Brainard expects to shrink the balance sheet larger and faster than they did back in 2018.
Balance sheet reduction/Quantitative Tightening (QT) explained:
The Federal Reserve has nearly $9T worth of Treasuries and Mortgage-backed securities (MBS) on its balance sheet, with an outsized portion coming in the last two years as the Fed purchased $120B of bonds per month for most of 2020 and all of 2021 in a process called Quantitative Easing (QE).
QT is the opposite of QE and a process where the Fed removes bonds off its balance sheet. MBS, where home loan rates are derived, can be paid off either through refinance or purchase activity or from maturation. When the Fed receives this principle, they have been using those proceeds to purchase more MBS. That will no longer happen.
In QT, the Fed will set a cap that will increase every month and ultimately get to $35B. The Fed will take the principal up to $35B and give it back to the Treasury Department. Any principal received in a month above $35B would be reinvested back into MBS.
The idea that the Fed would go from buying bonds to “rapidly” removing them from their balance sheet spooked the financial markets. History tells us the financial markets may be over-reacting to the idea the Fed is going to shrink its balance sheet (QT) and push rates much higher. Back in 2018 the Fed shrunk its balance sheet modestly and rates did move higher, but by the time the Fed stopped in mid-2019, home loan rates were lower than when they began.
Much like in 2018, we should expect any balance sheet reduction to be gradual with the Fed quickly adjusting based on incoming economic data much as they did back in 2019.
“A large number of members held the view that the current high level of inflation and its persistence called for immediate further steps towards monetary policy normalization,” European Central Bank Meeting Minutes April 7, 2022.
What happens around the globe can affect our rates. This quote from last Thursday, where the ECB is moving away from its current accommodative policy to something more neutral, lifted yields abroad and caused our rates to tick up.
The next Fed meeting on May 4th is still weeks away. We should expect continued interest rate and market volatility over these next few weeks as we look to see how much the Fed will hike rates and if they start the balance sheet reduction (QT).
As of this writing, one positive development was the yield curve is no longer inverted. For a few days, the 2-year note yield was higher than the 10-year yield. Fears are that this 2/10 yield curve inversion portends a recession. However, history has shown that yield curve inversion typically last weeks or months before any recession. In this instance, the yield curve inverted for just a few days.
Bottom line: Interest rates remain on the rise and the words of central bankers around the globe last week have added to the uncertainty and volatility. If you are considering a mortgage, now is an ideal time to lock in your rate, as the path of least resistance for rates remains higher.
Last Week in Review: Tailwinds From Abroad
This past week, home loan rates improved from the worst levels in three years. Let’s walk through what happened last week and talk about what to watch in the weeks ahead.
1. Ukraine/Russia Showing Optimistic Signals
Early in the week, there was word that the Russian military was going to deescalate their troops’ presence around the Ukraine capital of Kyiv. Adding to the sense of optimism was also word the peace talks in Turkey between Ukraine and Russia officials were apparently positive.
Presently, there is no ceasefire and no deals in place. However, the markets sense the conflict moving towards a more positive resolution. In response, oil prices initially moved sharply lower – helping stocks to rise while rates declined.
The drop in oil prices ended up being short-lived but the rally in bond prices continued as the financial markets started to direct their attention to economic data and what the Fed will do with short-term interest rates.
It’s also important to remember when looking at economic data and conditions, we also must look abroad, as what happens elsewhere can have a major effect on the US economy. Think – global supply chain crisis.
“Europe is entering a difficult phase,” European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde.
The Ukraine/Russia war is causing both energy and food inflation in the region to increase. On top of this, the Covid related shutdowns in Asia are renewing the global supply chain crisis.
As costs remain high, Europe is also experiencing slower economic growth, which makes for a “difficult phase.”
One way for the ECB to combat higher prices is to raise rates. However, slowing economic growth makes it difficult to do so as higher rates would slow growth further and potentially cause a recession.
So, the ECB will only raise rates gradually and carefully while adjusting policy upon receiving economic feedback.
As Europe’s interest rates remain low, it pulls our interest rates lower as well. This is part of what happened this week.
2. The US Treasury Yield Curve is Speaking
Last week, the 2-year Note yield briefly broke above the 10-year yield causing a yield curve inversion. Economics tells us if the yield curve inverts for a sustained amount of time, we could be headed towards a recession within the next 18 months.
There are no recessionary signals sighted yet, but the yield curve is telling our Federal Reserve to be careful with rate hikes and tightening of financial conditions.
The 2-year yield does follow the Fed Funds Rate (the rate the Fed hikes and cuts) over time. Presently, the 2-year yield is 2.31% which suggests the Fed will raise the Fed Funds Rate by 2.00% from here.
The 10-year yield, just slightly higher at 2.33%, suggests that the Fed will not have much room to hike rates beyond the current forecast.
The incoming economic data, including reads on inflation and growth, will determine what the Federal Reserve will be able to do with rates.
Bottom line: Federal Reserve rate hikes have no effect on mortgage rates. We experienced a rate improvement last week for the reasons explained above. These themes can change quickly for the better or worse. If you are considering a mortgage, now is the time as any further improvement in rates could prove fleeting.
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Last Week in Review: Rates Spike on Tough Fed Talk
Home loan rates ticked up to fresh three-year highs as a parade of Federal Reserve officials spoke throughout last week about the need to hike rates more aggressively to combat inflation. Let’s walk through what happened last week and talk about the big reports this week.
“There is an obvious need to move expeditiously to a more neutral level and more restrictive levels if needed to restore price stability,” Fed Chair Jerome Powell – 3.21.22.
This quote, along with several others from Mr. Powell sent the bond prices lower and rates touching three-year highs. It suggested the Fed will need to hike the Fed Funds Rate quickly to get to a more neutral rate, where the Fed Funds Rate neither hurts nor helps the economy. Presently, the Fed Funds Rate is between .25% – .50%.
What would be a neutral rate? Atlanta Fed President Bostic, who was also speaking this week, said the neutral rate is 2.40%. So, this means the Fed wants to hike the Fed Funds Rate by 2.00% or 8 more .25% hikes to get to Bostic’s neutral rate.
Mr. Powell also said they could move to more “restrictive levels,” which would mean even more rate hikes and a Fed Funds Rate higher than 2.40%.
“Risk is rising. An extended period of high inflation could push longer-term expectations uncomfortably higher.” Jerome Powell.
This quote speaks as to why long-term rates have risen so fast of late and why the Fed is speaking so tough this week. The major fear of the Fed is for long-term inflation expectations to rise – meaning, people will expect higher prices in the future. If people expect higher prices, we will see higher prices. This disruption to price stability is exactly what the Fed wants to fight.
Housing Already Seeing the Effect of Higher Rates
New Home Sales for February showed sales of newly built homes decline from a downwardly revised January number. Overall, New Home Sales are down 6.2% from February 2021.
NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz said, “New home sales softened in January and February as mortgage rates increased.”
A new home sale occurs when a sales contract is signed, or a deposit is accepted. The home doesn’t have to be built or even started to be considered a new home sale. Of the 407,000 new homes available for sale only 35,000 are built and ready to be occupied.
The median home price of a new home rose to $400,600, up 10.6% from February 2021, despite a sharp 20% increase in building materials over that time.
It’s clear that housing has cooled a bit, which is exactly what the Fed wanted. What remains unclear is if, when, and how much the Fed could hike rates as an interest rate sensitive sector, like housing, has already slowed down.
Bottom line: The tough Fed talk hurt long-term rates like mortgages, last week. It remains to be seen if the Fed can act as tough as they talk. If you, a family member, or a friend is considering a mortgage, now is a great time as rates remain below the rate of inflation … something that hasn’t happened in nearly 50 years.