Mortgage Market News for the week ended July 14, 2017
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Fed and Data Benefit Rates
Over the past week, comments from Fed officials and weaker than expected economic data were positive for mortgage rates. After rising for the last two weeks, mortgage rates ended this week lower.
Every six months, the head of the U.S. Fed testifies before Congress. In her testimony on Wednesday, nearly all of Fed Chair Janet Yellen's comments simply reiterated what had already been communicated by Fed officials. However, she did provide one new piece of information regarding future Fed policy which caused a significant reaction. Yellen said that the Fed would not have to raise the federal funds rate "all that much further" to reach a "neutral policy stance," which is the rate which neither helps nor hinders economic growth. The practical implication of a lower "neutral" rate is that the Fed would stop raising rates sooner than investors had previously expected. A potentially smaller number of future rate hikes was viewed as good news for mortgage rates.
A shortfall in the retail sales and inflation data released on Friday also was positive for mortgage rates. Excluding the volatile auto component, retail sales in June declined for the second straight month, while the consensus was for a modest increase. This was the first period of back-to-back monthly declines since July and August of last year.
The inflation data also fell short of expectations. The core consumer price index (CPI), which excludes food and energy, remained well below the Fed's target level of 2.0%. Expectations for another rate hike by the Fed this year declined after the release of the retail sales and inflation data.
Looking ahead, the biggest event for U.S. markets next week likely will be the European Central Bank meeting on Thursday. While ECB officials have already said that they will wait for the meeting on September 7 to announce their plans for the bond purchase program, any guidance at this meeting about future policy will affect markets around the world. It will be a light week for U.S. economic data. The NAHB housing sentiment index will be released on Tuesday. Housing Starts will come out on Wednesday. The Philadelphia Fed regional manufacturing index will be released on Friday.
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Mortgage Market News for the week ended June 23, 2017
Fed Officials Debate Inflation
Comments from Fed officials caused some volatility this week but had little net effect. The economic data caused little reaction. Mortgage rates ended the week nearly unchanged, close to the best levels of the year.
Last week's weak inflation data had Fed officials talking this week. To the surprise of many, inflation has declined during each of the last few months. Fed officials seem divided on how to react. Some consider the recent decline transitory and want to continue monetary tightening. Others question this and want to slow things down. On Monday, New York Fed President Dudley said that he thinks rising wages will push inflation higher and that to slow the current pace of monetary tightening could do harm to the economy. On Tuesday, Chicago Fed President Evans said that the Fed "can afford" to wait "a little bit" to see if inflation moves higher. The debate caused some market volatility.
The existing-home sales data from the National Association of Realtors released on Wednesday revealed that a shortage of inventory continued to be an issue in May. Total inventory of existing homes available for sale was significantly lower than a year ago and was at just a 4.2-month supply. A 6-month supply is considered a nice balance between buyers and sellers. The low supply of inventory and robust buyer demand caused prices to rise and properties to be sold very quickly. The median existing-home price reached a record high in May, and it took just 27 days on average for properties to be sold. This was the shortest duration since tracking began in 2011.
Even with a low level of inventory in many markets, existing-home sales in May rose a little from April to the third highest level over the past twelve months. Sales of new homes, which make up roughly 10% of the market, also climbed in May, and the median price of new homes rose to a record high as well.
Looking ahead, Durable Orders, an important indicator of economic activity, will come out on Monday. Pending Home Sales will be released on Wednesday. The Core PCE price index, the inflation indicator favored by the Fed, will come out on Friday. In addition, there will be Treasury auctions on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.
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Mortgage Market News for the week ended April 28, 2017
Europe Influences U.S. Markets
Over the past week, mortgage rates were influenced mainly by events in Europe. The outcome of Sunday's French election was bad for mortgage rates, while Thursday's European Central Bank meeting was mildly positive. The U.S. economic data had little impact. Mortgage rates ended the week a little higher.
One pro-EU candidate (Macron) and one anti-EU candidate (Le Pen) won the first round of Sunday's French Presidential election and will compete in the second round on May 7. Polls indicate that Macron is heavily favored to win the second round, which reduces some concerns that France will leave the European Union. Investors reacted by reversing the flight to safety trade which took place ahead of the election. This means that they shifted back to riskier assets such as stocks and out of safer assets such as mortgage-backed securities (MBS). The increased supply of MBS caused mortgage rates to rise.
At Thursday's meeting, the European Central Bank (ECB) made no policy changes, as widely expected. The tone of ECB President Draghi was more dovish than anticipated, however. Some investors had worried that ECB officials might hint at a reduction in bond purchases by the ECB. The fact that they did not was good news for mortgage rates.
The first reading for first quarter U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) released on Friday was 0.7%, below the consensus of 1.1%, and down from 2.1% in the fourth quarter of 2016. This was the slowest quarterly growth in three years. Weak consumer spending and a decline in inventories were a couple of the primary factors in the shortfall.
These components are volatile on a quarterly basis, and many economists believe that the weakness in the first quarter simply pushed some economic activity into later quarters. As a result, the report had little impact on mortgage rates.
Looking ahead, it will be a packed week. The next Fed meeting will take place on Wednesday. No change in rates is expected, but investors will be eager for guidance on the pace of future tightening. The key monthly Employment report will be released on Friday. Before that, important data on inflation, manufacturing, and services will be released. In addition, news about policies from the Trump administration or about the French election on May 7 could influence mortgage rates.
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Mortgage Market News for the week ended March 03, 2017
Rising Rate Hike Expectations
A shift in expectations toward a faster pace of tightening by the Fed was negative for mortgage rates this week. Stronger than expected economic data also was unfavorable. As a result, mortgage rates ended the week higher.
This week, speeches by several Fed officials were more hawkish than expected. This caused investors to expect a faster pace of monetary policy tightening. Futures markets now price in about a 75% chance of a federal funds rate hike at the next Fed meeting on March 15, up from just a 25% chance a week ago. While the federal funds rate is more highly correlated with short-term yields than with long-term yields such as mortgage rates, a faster pace of tightening is bad for mortgage rates because it likely means that the Fed will begin to reduce its holdings of mortgage-backed securities (MBS) sooner. Fed purchases of MBS have helped mortgage rates move lower in recent years, so the shortened expected timeline for reduced demand from the Fed caused mortgage rates to rise.
One reason that Fed officials may be inclined to hike rates this month is that recently released economic data has generally continued to surpass expectations. Since the election, both consumers and businesses appear to be more optimistic about the economic outlook. The February measure of Consumer Confidence from the Conference Board rose to the highest level since 2001.
The ISM national manufacturing index increased to 57.7, the highest level since August 2014. Readings above 50 indicate an expansion in the sector. As recently as August, the index was below 50. The ISM national services index also rose more than expected to 57.6, the best reading since April 2015. Stronger economic activity raises future inflationary pressure, which is bad for mortgage rates.
Looking ahead, there will be a European Central Bank (ECB) meeting on Thursday. No policy changes are expected, but guidance about the outlook for future policy could influence U.S. markets. In the U.S., the important monthly Employment report will be released on Friday. As usual, this report on the number of jobs, the unemployment rate, and wage inflation will be the most highly anticipated economic data of the month. In addition, there will be Treasury auctions on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
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Mortgage Market News for the week ended February 24, 2017
Focus on Europe
It was another volatile week for mortgage markets. Uncertainty about the outcome of the elections in Europe had a positive influence on U.S. mortgage rates. The Fed minutes and the economic data had little net effect. As a result, mortgage rates ended the week lower.
One source of volatility 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 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. mortgage-backed securities (MBS) are viewed as relatively safer assets, they have been affected by the shifts in sentiment, causing volatility. The net effect on mortgage rates for the week was positive.
The Fed was another source of volatility this week. On Wednesday, the Fed released the minutes from the February 1 Fed meeting. Concerned that the Fed might talk about a need to reduce its holdings of MBS, investors pushed mortgage rates a little higher ahead of the release of the minutes. When the minutes made little mention of this topic, investors later reversed their positions, resulting in little net change.
Home sales begin the year on a strong note. In January sales of previously owned homes rose to the highest level since February 2007. Sales might have been even better if inventory levels had been higher. Total inventory of existing homes for sale remained near record low levels with just a 3.6-month supply.
Looking ahead, Pending Home Sales and Durable Orders will come out on Monday. The Core PCE price index, the inflation indicator favored by the Fed, will be released on Wednesday. The ISM national manufacturing index also will come out on Wednesday, and the ISM national services index will be released on Friday. Fed Chair Yellen is scheduled to speak on Friday as well. The next Employment report will come out on March 10 (due to February being a shorter month).
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Mortgage Market News for the week ended February 17, 2017
Based on the economic news over the past week, it would not have been surprising to see a large increase in mortgage rates. With stronger than expected economic data nearly across the board, hawkish comments from the Fed, and a stock market rally, the first half of the week indeed was rough on rates. Once all the news was out, however, mortgage rates recovered their losses and ended the week with little change.
Most of the reports on economic activity released this week far exceeded expected levels. Excluding the volatile auto component, retail sales doubled the expected increase in January, and the December figures were revised higher as well. Consumer spending accounts for about 70% of economic output, and the retail sales data is a key indicator.
Housing starts in January also surpassed expectations. The biggest surprises, though, were two regional manufacturing indexes which beat the consensus by a wide margin, one of which reached the highest level since 1984. In addition to these reports, the CPI and PPI inflation data for January came in above the expected levels. Increasing economic activity and rising inflation are not good for mortgage rates.
Early in the week, Fed Chair Yellen delivered her semi-annual testimony to Congress. Her comments were viewed as more hawkish than expected. Yellen stressed that it would be "unwise" to wait too long to raise the federal funds rate. She also said that in coming months the Fed will consider when to begin to reduce the Fed's portfolio of mortgage-backed securities (MBS). On the plus side, she pointed out that the Fed will do so very gradually. However, demand for MBS from the Fed has helped push down mortgage rates in recent years. The possibility of reduced demand put upward pressure on mortgage rates.
Looking ahead, the minutes from the February 1 Fed meeting will come out on Wednesday. These detailed minutes provide additional insight into the debate between Fed officials and have the potential to significantly move markets. Existing Home Sales will be released on Wednesday and New Home Sales will come out on Friday. Mortgage markets will be closed on Monday in observance of Presidents Day.
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Mortgage Market News for the week ended February 10, 2017
Sentiment Remains High
Last Friday's Employment report left investors feeling good about buying bonds, and mortgage rates improved over the first half of this week. An announcement from President Trump on Thursday was negative for bonds, however, and a partial reversal took place. After a couple of weeks with relatively little net change, mortgage rates ended this week a little lower.
The much weaker than expected wage growth in the Employment report released on February 3 eased investor concerns about future inflation. Lower inflation increases the value of future cash flows from bonds. With little economic news early in the week, investors purchased bonds, including mortgage-backed securities (MBS). Since mortgage rates are set based on MBS prices, rates declined.
On Thursday, President Trump said to expect an announcement about tax cuts in two to three weeks. Mortgage rates moved a little higher after the comment. There are a couple of 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. As they spend some of this money, it boosts economic activity, which in turn raises the outlook for future inflation. The second reason 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 bonds, including MBS.
The report on Consumer Sentiment released on Friday showed that consumers remained optimistic about economic activity. While the reading was a little below the 13-year high seen last month, it was still quite high by historical standards. This survey from the University of Michigan measures the level of optimism or pessimism about current and future economic conditions.
Looking ahead, Retail Sales will be released on Wednesday. Consumer spending accounts for about 70% of economic output in the U.S., and the retail sales data is a key indicator. The Consumer Price Index (CPI), a widely followed monthly inflation report, also will come out on Wednesday. CPI looks at the price change for goods and services which are purchased by consumers. Housing Starts will be released on Thursday. In addition, Fed Vice Chair Fisher will be speaking on Saturday morning, and Fed Chair Yellen will deliver her semi-annual testimony to Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday.
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Mortgage Market News for the week ended December 22, 2016
Home Sales Rise
The economic data released this week had little impact on mortgage rates. Tuesday's Bank of Japan meeting also caused little reaction in U.S. markets. Mortgage rates ended the week lower.
While it had little market impact, Wednesday's report on sales of previously owned homes exceeded expectations and reached another multi-year high. November existing home sales increased a little from October to the highest level since February 2007. Existing home sales were 15% higher than a year ago.
This figure is inflated somewhat, though, since sales in November of last year were depressed by the implementation of new closing disclosure requirements. Total inventory of existing homes available for sale fell to a 4-month supply, and it was 9% lower than a year ago. The median existing-home price was 7% higher than a year ago. Since sales of previously owned homes measure closings, the November data was not affected much by the increase in mortgage rates seen since the election.
Thursday's report on orders for durable goods contained mixed news. Durable goods are products which are expected to last more than three years. The overall figure revealed that orders for durable goods in November declined 4.6% from October, which was close to the expected levels. The decline was mostly due to a drop in aircraft orders. Since certain products such as aircraft tend to be very volatile from month to month, investors generally prefer to look at a core reading to get a better sense of the underlying trend. This core indicator of business investment, nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft, showed a healthy increase of 0.9% from October.
Looking ahead, it will be a light week for economic data. Pending Home Sales will come out on Wednesday. There will be Treasury auctions on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. During the last couple of weeks in December, trading volume tends to be lighter than usual, which can lead to exaggerated price swings. Mortgage markets will be closed on Monday in observance of Christmas.
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Mortgage Market News for the week ended December 16, 2016
Fed Projects Faster Pace of Hikes
Wednesday's Fed meeting turned out to be negative for mortgage rates. Recent economic data had little impact. As a result, mortgage rates ended the week higher.
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 way." When that will be is hard to say, but the faster they raise the federal funds rate, the sooner their demand for new MBS will be removed.
On Thursday, the December National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) housing index showed that home builder confidence jumped from 63 to 70, far above the consensus, and the highest level since 2005. According to the NAHB, home builders are optimistic that the Trump administration will "reduce costly regulatory burdens."
Looking ahead, there will be a meeting of the Bank of Japan on Tuesday which could influence U.S. mortgage rates. In the U.S., Existing Home Sales will be released on Wednesday. Durable Orders and Core PCE will come out on Thursday. Core PCE is the inflation indicator favored by the Fed. New Home Sales will be released on Friday. Mortgage markets will close early on Friday in observance of Christmas.
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Mortgage Market News for the week ended December 02, 2016
It was a volatile week for mortgage rates. A wide range of factors, including Italian politics, OPEC, and U.S. economic data, caused significant reactions. The net effect was small, however, and mortgage rates ended the week with little change.
On Sunday, Italians will vote on a referendum presented by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. If successful, the referendum would simplify the process in Italy for passing laws. The most recent polls suggest that it may be a very close vote. If the referendum fails to pass, critical reforms for the Italian banking sector likely would be postponed. This would put some banks in Italy and in other European countries at risk of failing. In addition, Renzi has said that he will step down if the referendum fails. This would likely lead to a period of political uncertainty in Italy. Early in the week, investors began to noticeably react to the uncertainty by shifting to safer assets, including U.S. mortgage-backed securities (MBS), which was good for mortgage rates.
On Wednesday, however, OPEC representatives announced an agreement to cut oil production. This caused oil prices to surge over 9%. Since higher oil prices raise the outlook for future inflation, this was negative for mortgage rates. The increase in rates on Wednesday more than offset the improvement seen earlier in the week.
In contrast to the OPEC news, a shortfall on wage gains in Friday's key Employment report reduced inflationary pressures, which was positive for mortgage rates. In November, average hourly earnings were far below the consensus with a small decline from October. They were 2.5% higher than a year ago, down from the multi-year high of 2.8% last month.
Job growth was right on target. Against a consensus forecast of 170K, the economy added 178K jobs in November. The unemployment rate declined from 4.9% to 4.6%, well below the consensus for a flat reading, and the lowest level since August 2007. The unexpected decline in the unemployment rate was mostly due to workers leaving the labor force, however, which is not positive news for the economy.
Looking ahead, the Italian vote will take place on Sunday, and the results likely will affect U.S. mortgage rates on Monday. After that, the next big event will be the European Central Bank (ECB) meeting on Thursday. Investors are divided about what the ECB will decide. In the U.S., the most significant economic report will be ISM Services on Monday. The next U.S. Fed meeting will take place on December 14.
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