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.
President Trump today said to expect an announcement about tax cuts in two to three weeks. Mortgage rates moved a little higher after the comment. There are two reasons why tax cuts are viewed as negative for mortgage rates. The first is that tax cuts increase the wealth of the affected individuals or businesses, leaving them with more money to spend. This added spending boosts economic activity, which increases the outlook for future inflation. Mortgage rates rise as expected future inflation rises, since higher inflation further erodes the value of a mortgage’s future cash flows. The second is that tax cuts increase the budget deficit, at least initially. This means that the government has to issue more Treasury bonds to fund the deficit. The added supply reduces the value of Treasuries and similar bonds, including mortgage-backed securities (MBS). A decline in MBS prices leads to higher mortgage rates.
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 [...]
Next Sunday, voters in Italy will decide on a referendum presented by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi which would reform the constitution to speed up lawmaking and to produce a more stable government. If the referendum fails to pass, there is the potential for many troubles to develop in Italy. First, much needed reforms for the Italian banking sector likely would be postponed, which would put many banks at risk of failing. Investors are concerned that this could impact banks throughout Europe. In addition, Renzi has said that he will step down if the referendum does not pass. His resignation would likely lead to a period of political uncertainty in Italy, and it could result in more power for a political group which favors leaving the euro. In the wake of the Brexit vote in the UK, investors would be very concerned if they saw the potential for Italy to exit the European Union. The most recent polls show that it may be a very close vote. Investors have reacted to the uncertainty by shifting to safer assets, including U.S. mortgage-backed securities (MBS). Since mortgage rates are set based on MBS prices, the news resulted in improvement. For the rest of [...]