On Wednesday, the Fed announced they would "hold-off" tapering the Quantitative Easing plan and continue to purchase mortgage backed securities. As a result, the market surged on the good news, causing interest rates to improve by nearly .250% to their lowest in 4 months.
The Fed only meets 8 times a year and only 4 of those meetings boast the full slate of events that include updated economic projections from Fed governors and the press conference with the Fed Chairman. While every meeting ends with a policy announcement, the specific task of adjusting asset purchases is seen as coinciding with one of the meetings where the Chairman can further discuss the decision in the press conference.
When the Fed abstained from cutting asset purchases in the June meeting, markets generally accepted that today's meeting would be the most likely opportunity to announce a plan to cease the purchase program. Not everyone agreed. Detractors cited early warning signs that the economy wouldn't grow as quickly as the Fed expected (if at all) in light of interest rates that had risen "too fast." That logic notwithstanding, fears remained that the Fed wouldn't have enough hard evidence to make the same determination, and today remained the consensus for a tapering announcement.
Mortgage interest rates are currently at the lowest levels of all time surpassing the best levels from January of this year. The new run lower in mortgage rates has been spurred on by tightening spreads between mortgage backed securities and US treasury debt. The Federal Reserve still has money left in their program to keep mortgage rates low but they have begun to wind it down.
Mortgage rates are at all time lows across the board from 30 year fixed rates to 20, 15 and 10 year fixed all the way to 5/1 and 7/1 adjustable rate loans.
Other good news in the mortgage market to go along with all time low interest rates is the announcement of the first time homebuyer tax credit being extended into next year. Also, the expanded conforming jumbo loan limits will also be carried over into next year. Both of these programs were originally going to expire in 2009. This helps open up the guidelines and allow more borrowers to take advantage of the low mortgage interest rates that are available.
The big current event that is impacting both the mortgage market and the equity markets today is news out of Dubai that Dubai World, the city-state's largest corporate entity, has asked it's creditors for a 6 month break on payments of $60 billion (60,000,000,000) in debts. This has caused concern that the worst of the financial crisis might not be over. Yields on US treasuries have moved lower this morning as stocks have been declining. US treasuries are used as a benchmark for Mortgage Backed Securities which have also seen their yields dropping (leads to lower mortgage rates) this morning.
Mortgage interest rates have been falling over the past month back to the best levels of the year. This drop in mortgage rates has happened despite a strong rally in the stock market. Usually when stocks rally, mortgage rates get worse.
Many analysts think that the stock market is overbought and will sell off soon. If that were to happen then we could see mortgage rates move even lower. One thing working against mortgage rates is the Federal Reserve beginning to wind down their purchase of Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS). This program was started at the beginning of the year in an effort to tighten the spread on MBS and bring mortgage rates down. Originally the Fed was going to use $1.25 trillion dollars to buy mortgage backed securities by the end of this year. On Wednesday the Fed announced that instead of spending all $1.25 trillion by the end of this year, they would be slowing their daily purchases of MBS so that the funds are not gone until the end of March 2010. As the Fed buys less MBS each day in order to make the $1.25 trillion last longer and gradually exit the market, mortgage rates could begin to go up.
It is always hard to predict where mortgage rates are headed. In the current times it is even more difficult because of the unprecedented Fed involvement and the uncertainty about how much rates will increase up when the Fed exits the market.
Mortgage interest rates have begun to come off the all time lows from early January and seem to have settled in the low 5% range on 30 year fixed mortgages with no points. One of the reasons that rates have begun to increase is all of the planned stimulus packages and spending that newly elected President Obama has on the table. The way these packages will be financed is through increased government borrowing in the form of increased supply of treasury notes. This expectation of increased supply in the bond market has lead to higher yields in all bond markets and caused mortgage backed securities (MBS) to follow with higher yields as well. Along with increased supply pulling the price of bonds down and thus increasing the yield; there is fear among investors that inflation will eventually pick up if the stimulus packages spark an economic recovery.
The Fed is going forward with their program of purchasing MBS on the open market. They have consistently been buying 3 to 4 billion of agency MBS each day. If it were not for this constant demand provided by the Fed, mortgage rates would be much higher than they are today.
On the bright side, as lenders get caught up on loans in their pipeline over the next month they should get more aggressive in the rates they offer on their daily rate sheets in an effort to keep the new loans coming in. This tightening of the spread between lenders rate sheets and MBS pricing could lead to lower rates again sometime in the next month.
While 30 year rates in the high 4% range were nice while they lasted, rates in the low 5% range are nothing to complain about either, especially with the home purchase season fast approaching.
On Tuesday December 16th
the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC or "The Fed") will release a statement after its scheduled meeting. Many economists are expecting the Prime rate to be lowered to 3.5% at this meeting. One important thing to remember is that a lower Prime rate does not translate into lower fixed mortgage rates. See our article from November 16th http://www.hqworksforme.com/mortgage-blog/bid/6768/What-determines-mortgage-rates
for more information on what determines mortgage rates.
There are a couple of other news items coming out this week that could have an impact on mortgage rates. The first piece of data will be released on Tuesday is the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The CPI will give investors an idea of what direction prices for goods and services in the economy are going. A higher than expected reading (more inflationary) will be bad for mortgage rates while a lower than expected number (less inflationary or even deflationary) could provide support.
On Thursday the Philadelphia Fed Index is released. This reports on the level of manufacturing activity in the Philadelphia region and is seen as a strong indicator for national manufacturing activities. If this number is worse than expected it should provide support to mortgage rates because generally a weak economy leads to increased investment in fixed income, like mortgage backed securities (MBS).
Current 30 year fixed mortgage rates remain at all time lows and depending on how things look this week in the economic reports, they could be sticking around into the new year.
Many consumers are misinformed about the different factors in the economy that impact mortgage rates. A common misconception among borrowers and also some members of the media is that the Federal Funds Rate set by the Federal Reserve is tied to mortgage rates. When the Fed cuts the Fed Funds Rate and mortgage rates don't go down accordingly many people are left scratching their heads wondering why.
The reason for this is that mortgage rates are determined by Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS) and the current coupon they are trading at. MBS are traded every business day just like stocks and other bonds. As investor demand for MBS increases, the price of MBS goes up and the yield goes down resulting in lower mortgage rates.
A simple way to think about mortgage rates is anything that increases investor demand to buy mortgages results in lower mortgage rates. For example when an investor pulls money out of stocks they usually turn to safer fixed income investments to put their money and MBS is one option they have. So when stocks decline that is one possible reason demand for MBS could increase. Another factor that can help investor demand for mortgages is low inflation. MBS and other bonds are fixed income investments so inflation diminishes the returns on that type of investment. If inflation is low then the fixed investments remain attractive. On the other side, if inflation is high then investments like MBS are less attractive and demand decreases causing mortgage interest rates to increase.
The reason that mortgage rates often increase when the Fed lowers rates is because the lower Fed rate is a stimulus for the economy and often leads to higher inflation in the future. This is bad for mortgage bonds which is why mortgage rates usually increase when the Fed cuts their rate.
Another misconception some people have is that mortgage rates are based on the US 10 year Treasury Bond. Often times the MBS market moves within a certain spread compared to the 10yr but at times there is a large disconnect between the two. This is the problem we are currently experiencing that is keeping mortgage rates higher than they could be given more traditional spreads. There are days where the yield on the 10yr will drop while the yield for MBS will increase when normally they would move in a similar path.
Daily trading prices and yields for Mortgage Backed Securities are not as readily available as information on stocks markets and government bonds. At HomeQuest Mortgage we subscribe to a service that gives us access to track the daily trading yields of MBS. This allows us to give our borrowers the most up to the minute advice on whether to lock or float their interest rate depending on current market conditions.