This is an interesting time in financial markets, and we want to help you understand the many elements currently in play. Investors face a lot of significant questions on a wide range of issues right now, and it's no surprise that they have responded to the increased uncertainty by reducing the level of risk in their portfolios. As usual, their primary method to accomplish this has been to shift assets from stocks to bonds, including MBS. The trade tensions between the U.S. and China remain one of the largest sources of concern for investors. Tariffs and other barriers to trade slow global economic activity, which reduces the outlook for future inflation and is favorable for mortgage rates. The outlook for global economic growth is another big question mark for investors. Around the world, the manufacturing sector clearly has taken a hit from the trade issues, and business investment has fallen as companies hesitate to make long-term capital commitments. On the other hand, U.S. consumer spending has remained quite healthy in recent months, and Alibaba ("the Amazon of China") just released strong earnings results. In addition, several geopolitical events around the world are concerning. Massive protests have been taking place in [...]
There are several big picture factors which are viewed as negative for long-term bond yields, but investors have been aware of them for months. It’s not unreasonable that mortgage rates have climbed to the highest levels in four years. What’s harder to figure out is why the increase took place over the last couple of weeks without any significant fresh news. First, the supply of bonds issued by the Treasury is increasing due to larger government deficits resulting from policy changes. Yields generally need to rise to entice investors to purchase additional bonds. Second, the new policies potentially will lead to faster economic growth, which could increase future inflationary pressures. Finally, investor expectations for the pace of tightening by the Fed have increased. Investors now assign roughly a 50% likelihood that the Fed will raise the federal funds rate four times in 2018, up from very low levels at the start of the year. In addition, the Fed is reducing its enormous holdings of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities, which adds to the supply of bonds.
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.
As widely expected, the Fed raised the federal funds rate by 25 basis points. Unfortunately for MBS, Fed officials also raised their outlook for the pace of future rate hikes. They now forecast three rate hikes in 2017, one more than previously projected. The faster pace was viewed as negative for mortgage rates. But why? The purpose for raising the federal funds rate is to keep inflation from rising above the Fed's target of 2%. This should be a good thing for mortgage rates. Part of the reason for the adverse reaction stems from a more direct effect the Fed has on mortgage rates. The Fed owns over $1.7 trillion of the agency mortgage-backed securities (MBS) that it purchased during its quantitative easing (QE) days. The Fed keeps the balance of MBS around that level by buying new MBS to replace that which pays off. The Fed is currently the buyer of approximately 25% of all newly issued MBS. This added demand from the Fed drives MBS prices higher and mortgage rates lower. The Fed says that it will not allow its holdings of MBS to decline until "normalization of the level of the federal funds rate is well under [...]
This week, a major influence on U.S. mortgage rates will be the “Brexit vote on Thursday. It is very difficult to predict the effect on the global economy if the UK were to leave the European Union or whether it would lead to similar votes in other countries. Due to the economic uncertainty which would result, a vote for the UK to exit the EU is expected to be positive for U.S. mortgage rates, while a vote to remain would be negative. As each new poll shifts the odds, investors react immediately. This increases daily volatility, as investors factor the expected outcome into asset prices. For example, the latest poll showed greater support to remain, and mortgage rates have moved higher today.
After holding the federal funds rate near zero for seven years, the Fed announced a rate hike of 25 basis points, as widely expected. This was the first rate hike since June 2006. Investors are now asking what the pace of future rate hikes will be. According to the Fed statement, Fed officials expect that economic conditions will warrant only "gradual" increases in rates. The statement also noted that the Fed does not expect to reduce its holdings of MBS and Treasuries any time soon. Investors were pleased that the Fed does not appear to be in any rush to tighten monetary policy, and MBS prices and stocks moved a little higher. Want to see live MBS prices on the go? Check out the new look of www.mbsquoteline.com from your mobile device. All features optimized for your device. | Questions call 800-627-1077
The Fed will end its Treasury and MBS purchases next month, but the impact on mortgage rates likely will be small. Over the last few years, these bond purchases, known as quantitative easing, helped push mortgage rates down to the lowest levels in decades. Mortgage rates then moved off their historic lows in May of last year when the Fed unexpectedly announced that it would soon taper the bond purchases. Since then, the decreases in monthly purchases have been anticipated far in advance by investors, causing little market reaction. As a result of quantitative easing, the Fed was the eventual investor in the majority of all mortgages originated during the bond purchase program. The Treasury and MBS purchases have caused the Fed’s balance sheet to expand to roughly $4.4 trillion dollars from less than $1.0 trillion in 2007. While the Fed will no longer purchase additional bonds, it will hold the size of its portfolio steady by reinvesting maturing securities. Eventually, though, Fed officials intend to reduce their holdings of MBS. Investors will be looking for hints about the timing for the Fed to begin to shrink its portfolio and for the pace at which it will occur. The [...]
The recently released Fed Minutes and testimony from Fed Chair Yellen have provided more detail in some areas about future Fed policy. There are two primary tools that the Fed is currently using, bond purchases and the fed funds rate. Bond purchases from the Fed, which include both Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities (MBS), exert a direct influence on mortgage rates. The added demand for MBS from the Fed raises MBS prices. Since mortgage rates are set based on MBS prices, this helps keep mortgage rates low. The Fed's portfolio of MBS has been growing at a scheduled pace as the Fed has been reinvesting principal payments received and adding new MBS. The Fed has been tapering its bond purchases, though, and the Minutes indicated that the purchases of new MBS will end in October as expected. After that time, the Fed plans to continue to reinvest principal payments received, which will hold the size of its portfolio steady, at least until the first fed funds rate hike. Principal payments have been averaging $16 billion per month, so investors were pleased that the reinvestment will continue for quite a while. The fed funds rate, a very short-term interest rate, has [...]
In a speech this morning, Fed Chair Yellen said that Fed officials widely share the view that further improvement in the labor market is needed before the Fed should begin to raise the fed funds rate. According to Yellen, the US economy is still "considerably short" of the Fed's goals. She emphasized several measures indicating that considerable slack remains in the labor market. The labor force participation rate remains low by historical standards. A lot of people who could be working have become discouraged by their lack of success in finding a job and have stopped trying. Seven million people are working part-time, and many of them would prefer to be working full-time. A large number of people have been unemployed for six months or more, which looks bad when applying for jobs. The JOLTS data shows that few people are quitting their jobs voluntarily. When the labor market is stronger, people typically are more willing to risk seeking better opportunities. Finally, wage gains have been small. Yellen's comments suggested that the Fed may wait longer than expected to raise the fed funds rate, which lifted stocks and had little lasting impact on MBS.
On top of the previously announced 10 basis point increase in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guarantee fees, Fannie and Freddie have published new Loan Level Price Adjustments (LLPAs) which will be effective April 1, 2014. The primary effect of the adjustments is to increase LTV/Credit Score LLPAs by 25 to 150 basis points. Offsetting these increases somewhat, the 25 basis point Adverse Market Delivery Charge will be eliminated for all states except New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Florida.