After the completion of the United Kingdom's exit, Italy will have the third largest economy in the European Union (EU) behind Germany and France. In recent years, Italy's economic growth has been below the average for the EU as a whole, and its unemployment rate has been higher than average. Italy's government is formed through a coalition of its top political parties, and the incoming coalition is proposing some major changes to attempt to address these issues. In particular, it would like to reduce the government spending constraints imposed by EU rules. Investors are concerned that this will lead to an increase in Italy's already large budget deficit and that the risk has increased that Italy could one day exit the EU. The resulting uncertainty has caused investors to shift to safer assets, hurting stocks and pushing global bond yields (outside of Italy) lower.
One source of volatility for MBS prices is uncertainty about the outcome of upcoming elections in several European countries. Investors are most focused on the presidential election in France which will take place on April 23. Polls show a close race between Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron. Le Pen's campaign has been centered on plans for France to leave the European Union (EU) and to stop using the euro currency, while the centrist Macron has run on a more traditional platform. It is not clear what would happen to the EU if France decided to exit. As a result, investors have reacted by shifting to safer assets after news which favors a Le Pen victory and doing the opposite after positive news for Macron. Since U.S. MBS are viewed as relatively safer assets, they have been affected by the shifts in sentiment, causing volatility.
In her semi-annual testimony to Congress, Fed Chair Yellen said that the Fed expects that economic progress will call for "further gradual increases" in the federal funds rate. She also said that it would be "unwise" to wait too long to hike rates. Yellen later added that the Fed will consider in coming months when to begin to reduce the Fed's holdings of MBS. Of note, she said that the Fed will not sell MBS to shrink the holdings, but rather will stop replacing principal reductions. The expected pace of tightening by the Fed increased a little after her testimony, causing MBS to decline.