Last Week in Review: Yellen for Higher Rates
We watched long-term rates, like mortgages, improve slightly this past week despite a surprising comment from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Let’s break it all down and look at what’s on tap for next week.
“It may be that interest rates will have to rise somewhat to make sure that our economy doesn’t overheat” – Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen
Janet Yellen was being interviewed on Zoom when she unleashed this seemingly innocent and likely honest comment. Well, it sent shockwaves across the stock market, pushing the NASDAQ down as much as 400 points last Tuesday alone.
Yellen was once the Fed Chair, and in that former role, it would be her duty to share comments on monetary policy. As Treasury Secretary, it is not her role to discuss rates. Especially, considering the active Fed Chair Jerome Powell saying over and over just days earlier at the Fed Meeting that “now is not the time” to raise rates.
There is big pressure on the Fed to help keep rates low. First and foremost are the upcoming “Plans” being debated in Washington D.C. The American Jobs Plan and American Family Plan are estimated to cost another $4 trillion, on top of the $1 trillion-plus still not spent from the American Rescue Plan. All this spending must be paid for by selling new bonds in the market. What we as a country can’t afford now is higher rates as the expense to service all this new debt will be an enormous burden.
Sell in May and Go Away
Stocks, especially the tech-laden NASDAQ, may have used Yellen’s comment as a reason to sell – but some of the downward pressure in stocks may be a seasonal phenomenon called “Sell in May and Go Away”. The idea is that stocks generally underperform during the summer months when many take vacations, thereby creating lower trading volume, larger price swings, and more risk.
As you could imagine, the pain in stocks was a gain for bonds. The 10-year yield declined to 1.56%, down nicely from 1.75% from just a few weeks ago.
If the summer selloff in stocks continues, we may see further improvement in rates.
Opportunity knocks again
With the recent improvement in rates, many more people can still benefit from a refinance and it will certainly help drive the purchase market. However – any rate improvement could be short-lived – here’s three reasons why locking at today’s rates may make sense:
- Treasury Secretary Janey Yellen’s comments for higher rates was honest. Lumber and other commodity prices are soaring – higher rates would cool that off.
- There is growing pressure on Fed Chair Powell to start “tapering” bond purchases. Again, in response to “frothy” assets like stocks and real estate.
- We are going to see higher inflation numbers over the next few weeks – what we don’t know is how high the numbers will be or how bonds will react. Bonds do not like inflation – it’s like kryptonite to Superman…a killer.
Bottom line: Rates have improved of late, but the good times may be relatively short-lived. Those thinking about locking in today’s rates should do so.
Last Week in Review: No News is Good News
In the absence of any meaningful economic reports this past week, we watched bond prices rise while rates inched lower. Oh yeah!!!
Let us break down what is going on and look into this week as the boredom ends.
The Path of Least Resistance
Rates have been steadily improving over the past few weeks as consumer inflation fears have waned. With a nice trend in place and no news to knock bonds down, prices continued their path of least resistance: higher. How high? Mortgage-backed securities, which are where home loan rates are derived, closed at their highest level since March 2nd this past week, and the 10-year yield hovered near 1.55%, also the lowest in nearly two months.
FOMC Blackout Period
The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), which meets eight times per year to discuss economic conditions and determine whether to hike or lower the Fed Fund Rates, can always move the market when they speak or during interviews.
However, the FOMC has established a blackout period where FOMC members are to limit their public speaking and interviews. The current period is April 17 through 29th. When Fed members are not talking or sharing their views, the markets can’t react to any perceived positive or negative statements. The quiet ends next week when the Fed delivers their Monetary Policy Statement on Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. ET. More on that below.
Bonds Regaining Some Shine
A couple of interesting trends happened this week which could bode well for rates in the near-to-intermediate term. First, stocks struggled a bit this past week, and when they dropped, rates also declined. This is a typical market reaction, but something we have not seen much of this year during the steady increase in rates. If stocks continue to stumble and we see a seasonal, “Sell in May and go away,” reaction, it could leave room for further rate improvement.
Second, the 20-year bond auction this past week was well received. This means the buying appetite for Treasury securities was very good despite the recent improvement in rates/yields. If this trend continues, it will help keep long-term rates relatively low.
Housing en Fuego
March existing-home sales showed the median price rose by an annual record-breaking pace of 17.2%. This scorching rise is due mainly to an anemic 2.1 months of available inventory for sale.
Homes sold in 18 days on average, another record low.
This is all good news for someone selling a home, but as we know, it is rough for folks purchasing one.
With rates ticking back down, vaccinations administered, and economies reopening, we should expect continued strength in housing and hopefully more inventory available for sale.
Bottom line: This is an amazing moment to take advantage of the current interest rates as the present improvement in rates could be short-lived.
Last Week in Review: 3 Things the Financial Markets are Saying
When stocks rise, rates typically decline. When inflation moves higher, rates typically increase. As the economy reopens, rates will rise.
Well, stocks rallied to all-time highs, inflation spiked, and the economy continues to reopen. However, rates improved to the best levels in a month.
There are three things the financial markets are saying this week that are important for interest rates, stocks, and the economy in general.
1. Higher Inflation May Be a Short-Term Phenomena
The March Consumer Price Index (CPI) came in at 2.6% year-over-year, the highest level since August 2018. All signs are pointing to even higher consumer inflation in the next three months. BUT the market is forward-looking. Bonds are already looking at where inflation is going to be four months from now. At the moment, the bond market is not worried about inflation, because if it was, rates would be higher.
2. The Fed Has Our Back
Despite a vocal slip midweek where Fed Chair Powell said they would taper bond purchases “well in advance” of hiking rates, stocks are basking in the glow of the notion the Fed is still “not even thinking about, thinking about” hiking rates or tapering its bond purchase program.
3. Economic Reopenings Are Stimulus
The economic reports this past week highlighted pent-up consumer demand and the positive impact of states reopening their economies. Retail Sales, a measure of consumer spending activity, rose a scorching 9.8% on a month-to-month basis. Moreover, Initial Jobless Claims, those seeking first-time unemployment benefits, fell to the lowest level since the early days of COVID.
Bottom line: The financial markets are saying inflation is not a problem yet, and the consumer is going to drive economic growth. And during it all, the Fed will keep rates low, helping the recovery further and putting upward pressure on stocks. This is an amazing moment to take advantage of the current interest rate environment, as the present improvement in rates could be short-lived.
Last Week in Review: Markets Cheer the Fed Minutes
This past week the financial markets reacted to the Fed minutes from the March Fed meeting. Heading into the release last Wednesday, the markets were on edge for three reasons:
- Would the Fed signal tapering of bond purchases?
- Would the Fed hint that rates will be hiked sooner than expected?
- Were inflation concerns elevating?
Well, market fears quickly turned to cheers as the Fed minutes reinforced that they are not “taking the punchbowl away” and they are not even thinking about raising rates or tapering bond purchases.
The main reason for the Fed’s position? The minutes revealed that “Participants noted that it would likely be some time until substantial further progress toward the Committee’s maximum-employment and price-stability goals would be realized.”
This line and more talk downplaying higher inflation fear longer-term allowed stocks to rally to all-time highs, while also allowing rates to also improve week-over-week.
On top of telling the markets the Fed will continue to buy bonds every day to help keep rates low, they upped their growth forecast for the economy. They now forecast GDP to average 6.5% in 2021, up sharply from their 4.2% forecast just made in December.
The Fed also sees unemployment declining to 4.5% by year-end, which is closer to the 3.4% low seen in February 2020, and they see inflation running at 2.2%, slightly above their target longer-term run rate of 2%.
The Fed is the most important thing to follow in the markets right now. When they are telling the markets they are not even “thinking about…thinking about” raising rates or tapering their bond purchases, this gives reason to “party like it’s 1999.”
What does it mean for you? Long-term rates like mortgages are not likely to move too high anytime soon.
This is a good story for millions who could still refinance as well as fuel continued opportunity in housing. Lastly, for new construction, there is no pressure just yet to lock any of those.
Bottom line: Rates have improved week-over-week, and the trend may very well continue. However, like we experienced several weeks ago, any further rate improvement may be modest and short-lived. As economies reopen, we should expect rates to continue to increase further over time.
Last Week in Review: Markets React to the American Job Pain
This past week was filled with a lot of market-moving news for the mortgage and housing industry. By week’s end, interest rates continued to stabilize, while stocks set new all-time highs. Let’s break it all down:
Enormous Government Spending on the Way
On Wednesday, President Biden laid out his $2.3T infrastructure proposal called the American Jobs Plan. Whether you like it or hate it, this plan calls for both big spending and tax increases.
This plan is a long way from passage, and it will likely be met with tons of both praise and criticism in the days and weeks ahead, thereby inviting market volatility.
Stocks generally do not like higher taxes, and bonds/rates do not like additional bond issuance, which will be needed to fund any plan, so seeing both initially improve was surprising, yet welcome.
Home Sales Not Pending
Pending home sales is a measure of signed contracts for existing homes. The February Existing Home Sales data showed 1.03M homes for sale, which is down a whopping 29% from a year ago, representing the largest year-over-year decline on record. It also represents the lowest supply of available homes on record.
The lean amount of supply, low interest rates, and scorching demand continues to drive home prices higher, as evidenced by the 11% year-over-year price increase reported by Case Shiller.
Private Sector Jobs Returning
The ADP Report on Wednesday showed a whopping 517,000 private-sector jobs created. This figure met frothy expectations and the largest monthly increase since September. The main driver of the increase is the reopening of more economies across the U.S. More vaccinations, coupled with declining cases and further reopenings should continue to drive better job figures in the months ahead.
Bottom line: Rates remain historically low. With the anticipation of better days ahead and so much stimulus, we should expect a further uptick in rates from here.
Last Week in Review: Rates May Have Just Peaked… This Is Why
We watched long-term interest rates improve nicely this past week from the highest levels in over a year. The recent chatter about higher inflation has cooled down, allowing other themes to come in and influence stocks and interest rates. It was mostly negative and bond-friendly. Let us break down what happened.
Bonds and rates love bad news and slower economic conditions, so when the talk of “largest tax increase in decades” went across the wires this week, stocks and rates moved lower with the 10-year Note yield dropping to 1.59% from 1.75% just days earlier.
It’s far from clear what and who will be taxed, but what is clear is that corporate tax rates are going up, and that has a negative effect on stocks – hence the pullback. Taxes, whether you love them or hate them, hamper economic growth and weigh on consumer demand, which lowers inflation pressures: another positive for rates.
“Vaccination is a national priority” – French President Emmanuel Macron
Another big negative and uncertain event has been the sharp rise in COVID cases throughout Europe. The main cause of the spike appears to be a slow vaccination rollout.
Fresh lockdowns throughout the region could cause economic harm and elevate uncertainty, which again may cause stocks and rates to move lower.
The Buck Is Strong
Despite enormous spending by the U.S. government and much more on the way, the U.S. dollar has strengthened against other global currencies, touching the highest level since November 2020.
Why does this matter? Many commodities, like oil, are priced in U.S. dollars, so as the dollar gets stronger, it has put downward pressure on the price of a barrel of oil. This has an effect of lowering inflation pressures, because so many products are made of oil.
A strong dollar also makes our imports cheaper, which also lowers inflation pressures which bonds and rates love.
Bottom line: Rates have improved week-over-week and the trend may very well continue. However, like we experienced several weeks ago, any further rate improvement may be modest and short-lived. As economies reopen, we should expect rates to continue to increase further over time.
Last Week In Review: The Fed Spoke and Bonds Didn’t Listen
This past week the Federal Reserve issued their monetary policy statement, as well as new forecasts on the economy, inflation, and rates. Despite all the soft talk on inflation and seeming lack of concern on higher prices ahead, the bond market was not buying it. Let’s break down what happened.
Fed meetings are always market movers, but this particular one seemed to carry even more weight. The Fed has lost control of long-term rates, as they have ticked higher since January 6, despite the Fed trying to “talk down” inflation on numerous occasions and purchasing $120B worth of bonds per month.
It’s All About Inflation
Mortgage-backed securities (MBS) are the instruments which determine home loan pricing, and inflation is the main driver. If inflation moves higher, rates must move higher. Currently, inflation is not an issue. It is running at 1.7% year-over-year.
The problem? We are going to see much higher inflation over the next few months as year-over-year figures will explode due to the sharp spike in commodities, oil, lumber, and such since last spring.
In the Fed statement and press conference, the Fed continues to acknowledge that inflation will be volatile in the near-term but will moderate back towards a longer-term 2% run rate by next year.
So far, the bond market is not listening or believing the Fed’s outlook on inflation, and after further digestion of their words, bond prices plunged on Thursday, causing rates to touch the highest levels in over a year.
Three Things Bonds Didn’t Like:
Once again, bonds hate inflation, and there were three things from the Fed meeting which spooked bonds and caused the spike higher in rates:
- No “taper” anytime soon, meaning the Fed will continue to purchase at least $120B worth of bonds every month. Normally, you would think this would help rates. Well, the bond market is concerned about the inflationary aspect that continued low rates can fuel. Strange days indeed.
- Fed unity in question. Despite forecasting the next rate hike is not expected until 2024, four Fed members on the committee expect higher rates next year, and seven expect higher rates in 2023. The question of Fed unity on rates and inflation is a reason for the spike.
- Moving the goalposts. The Fed has a dual mandate of maintaining price stability (inflation) and promoting full employment. On the latter, the Fed has added they now want to see maximum employment as “broad-based and inclusive,” meaning the Fed will now potentially add tracking Black and/or Hispanic unemployment before considering hiking rates. The problem for the bond market? This may lead to higher inflation as the Fed will show restraint on hiking rates because they have a new measure of unemployment to track. Most peculiar Mama.
Bottom line: Rates have resumed their trend higher. As economies reopen, we should expect rates to continue to increase further over time.
The Last Week In Review: Two Big Things Moving The Market
The volatility in the financial markets continued this past week, and at the end of it all, home loan rates were pretty much unchanged. Let’s break down two big things moving the markets.
More, More, More
1. This past Wednesday, Congress passed a whopping $1.9T stimulus plan. “How did the markets like it?” They loved it! The Dow Jones hit an all-time high, closing above 32,000 for the first time. Interest rates typically move higher when stocks soar, but not this week. Bond prices were able to pause their recent decline, giving lenders a break from the recent spike higher in home loan rates.
The $1.9T plan is expected to help the economy recover more quickly than previously expected, but it also carries two concerns for the bond market and interest rates. One is inflation. We are already seeing inflation expectations for the next ten years hit the highest levels since 2014. Throwing large amounts of money onto an economy that is already doing well where states are open, could elevate inflation further which means rates will be pressured higher again. The other concern is all of this stimulus, now $5T since the start of COVID, must be paid for by selling new bonds in the market. Who is going to purchase all of this debt? And at what price? These are questions that will be answered over time.
Cure for Higher Rates Is Higher Rates
2. The 10-Year Note yield hit 1.60% recently, and that level has been a ceiling for the Treasury market, meaning that level has kept rates from moving higher still. With the recent uptick in rates, the U.S. has attracted foreign investments from around the globe as our anemic Treasury yields are relatively attractive to other sovereign yields. If you look at the 10-Year German Bund yield at minus 0.33% or the 10-Year Japanese Government Bond at 0.10%, it is no wonder foreign investors jumped into the U.S. bond market of late, purchased our 10-Year Note and thereby helped pause the increase in rates here.
Bottom line: The recent pause in rates rising, could be just that: a pause. As economies reopen, we should expect rates to continue to increase over time.
Last Week in Review: The Fed, Inflation, and a Twist
Home loan rates improved modestly week-over-week as the U.S. bond market attempts to stabilize after a sharp increase in rates. Back on Thursday, February 25th, the 10-year yield hit 1.61% and has since declined back beneath 1.50%. This helped mortgage-backed securities (MBS), which drive home loan rates, to also improve in price/rate.
The Sales Pitch Continues
Inflation is the main driver of interest rates. If inflation or inflation expectations move higher, rates move higher, period. The opposite is true. The Fed has had to put on its sales hat recently by continuing to try and sell to the world that inflation in the U.S. will not hit the Fed’s target of 2% over the long-term for three years.
The Fed has noted that inflation will be “volatile.” What does that mean?
Consumer inflation year-over-year is going to rise sharply in the second quarter of 2021. Here’s why. Oil, lumber, and commodity prices like copper, coffee, and grains are up sharply year-over-year. Oil, which is in many consumer products, hovered near $20 a barrel and is now over $60.
“Would need to see inflation exceed 2% in order to even think about starting to get nervous.” Fed President Evans – 3/3/21
It would not be surprising to see consumer inflation in the mid to high 2% by May, so Mr. Evans and the entire Fed will have to continue to talk down inflation in order to try and keep rates from increasing further.
“Come on baby, let’s do the Twist” – Chubby Checker
The Fed only controls the Fed Funds Rate, an overnight lending rate between banks which impacts short-term loans like credit cards and home equity lines of credit and yes, your savings account at the bank. They do not control long-term rates like mortgages, and proof- positive is the sharp rise in rates in 2021, despite increased bond purchases by the Fed in an effort to stem the rise in rates.
What other tools does the Fed have to try and stabilize long-term rates? The rumor mill is swirling that if rates move higher, the Fed may enforce Operation Twist 3.0. They did it back in 2011, and here’s how it works.
The Fed will sell short-term bonds and purchase long-term bonds. This has the effect of driving down long-term rates while modestly boosting short-term rates. Back in 2011, the impact was significant. The 10-year yield went from a high of 3.75% to a low of 1.44%. However, when the Fed stopped the “Twist” and the manipulation was over, the yield spiked back up to 3% quickly.
Bottom line: Home loan rates remain historically low. Fed bond market manipulation may be required should higher inflation cause another increase in rates. Now is a great time to take advantage of rates before we see an even further rise.
Last Week In Review: Rates Go on Vacation
Longer-term U.S. interest rates, including home loan rates, remain on the rise. The big story of the week is Fed Chair Jerome Powell on Capitol Hill to provide his real-time assessment of the economy and rates while attempting to “sell” the notion that higher inflation will not be a problem.
“Inflation will not hit our target for three years.” – Jerome Powell
Mortgage rates are determined by the trading action in mortgage-backed securities (MBS), and those instruments respond to inflation and inflation expectations. If inflation moves higher, MBS prices move lower and rates move higher, and vice versa.
Inflation expectations have crept up to the highest levels in seven years. The enormous economic stimulus along with COVID loosening its grip, vaccinations moving quickly, economies re-opening, and consumers ready to spend has caused the spike.
Fed Chair Powell attempted to talk down inflation by suggesting it will be volatile in short term but will not even meet the Fed’s target of 2% for three years. The bond market was not having any of it, and despite Powell’s seemingly comforting words on inflation, bond prices dropped all week, sending mortgage rates higher.
The Fed Doesn’t Control Long-Term Rates
This recent uptick in rates is a stark reminder that the Fed doesn’t control long-term rates. Despite purchasing $30B in MBS in the last week in an effort to help keep rates low, rates only moved higher.
Durable Goods Orders Tell a Good Story
On February 17, the Retail Sales Report for January came in five times better than expectations, and this past Thursday, Durable Goods Orders confirmed the strength of the U.S. consumer.
A durable good is an item with a life expectancy of at least three years. Think appliances, furniture, and electronics. These items cost more money, so it is a positive sign to see consumers have the ability, willingness, and confidence to make these purchases. We should expect future readings to be sound as the U.S. economy gets back to fully open.
$1.9T Stimulus Plan at Risk
The recent round of strong economic readings coupled with more state reopenings and vaccination progress has many on both sides of the aisle questioning the size of the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan.
One could argue there is no better stimulus than getting the entire U.S. economy back open.
A plan will need to be approved by mid-March as unemployment benefits are due to expire.
Should the bill get trimmed back, it may help the bond market and rates, as it would likely lower inflation expectations. Some of the present fear in the bond market is the idea that a large stimulus package will exacerbate rising inflation pressures.
Bottom line: Home loan rates are still historically low. With all of the good news and more and more stimulus, we should expect rates to creep higher still. Now is a great time to take advantage of rates before we see an even further rise.