The first round of the French Presidential election will take place on Sunday. It is significant for global markets because of its potential implications for the future of the European Union (EU). The two candidates who receive the most votes on Sunday will proceed to the second round of voting on May 7, and the latest polls show that the top four candidates are very close. Two of these four (Le Pen and Melenchon) favor exiting the EU. The possibility that an anti-EU candidate could win has caused investors to shift to safer assets, which has helped mortgage rates in recent weeks. A strong showing by the anti-EU candidates would be good for mortgage rates, as investors likely will shift additional funds into safer assets. If they do poorly, it is expected that investors would shift back into riskier assets, which would be negative for rates.
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.
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.
The economic troubles of Greece have been in the news frequently in recent weeks. Its ability to recover from significant budget deficits and to pay its debts has been questioned and the government debt of Greece has been downgraded. The economy of Greece is tiny, however. The problem is that investors are concerned that other smaller European countries will reveal similar problems. Financial institutions and other private investors have become very reluctant to buy the government debt of these countries, requiring very high yields to do so. The fear is that as the problem grows, banks will become increasingly selective about lending worldwide, as they did during the subprime mortgage crisis. The clear solution is for the Greek government to cut spending, but this takes time and is politically unpopular to accomplish, while the reduced access to credit markets has already taken place. Last week, the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed on a $146 billion economic aid package for Greece to allow enough time for the country to stabilize. Still, Greek workers responded to proposed austerity measures with strikes and protests. Financial markets in Europe continued to fall as investors were skeptical that the bailout [...]