They say "the only constant is change...", yet last week's meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee ended without any major changes...no change to the Fed Funds Rate, and no change to the now-famous verbiage in their Policy Statement, stating that rates will remain low for an "extended period" of time. While the Fed does not control home loan rates, what does all this mean for those seeking home financing in the months ahead?
here are two important things to note about last week's Fed meeting. First, despite strong earnings, a stronger Stock market, and better consumer confidence and housing numbers, St. Louis Fed President Thomas Hoenig remains the lone dissenter to the verbiage in the Policy Statement on keeping rates low for an "extended period." He feels that there is a strong risk of inflation ahead...and that the Fed needs to prepare the markets for the eventual hikes that will be coming to the Fed Funds Rate. When the Fed does indeed change this language, it will signal that the Fed has a consensus on inflation being a threat...and since inflation is the arch-enemy of home loan rates, the change in verbiage will cause rates to move higher.
In addition, the Fed made no mention in their Policy Statement about selling any of their Mortgage Backed Security (MBS) holdings - and the added supply coming into the market will also cause home loan rates to rise. That said, the Fed may have discussed the topic during the meeting, and it could come up when the Meeting Minutes are released. There is growing concern that if the Fed doesn't begin selling some of these MBS holdings by 2011 that additional asset bubbles may arise. It's likely that the Fed will look to sell a meaningful chunk by year end, and this will be yet another headwind for home loan rates during the coming year.
In other news, Consumer Confidence rose sharply in April, to its highest reading since September 2008. This number is important because the more confident that consumers feel...the more likely it is that they will help fuel the economy. Also, the Commerce Department's Gross Domestic Product Report indicated that the economy grew for the third straight quarter, despite the report coming in slightly below estimates. Inflation readings within the report remained tame, giving the Fed cover to keep interest rates low, with inflation appearing to be subdued. But inflation concerns can arise quickly, and although the Fed is not acting just now...we can be sure they are watching very carefully.
Greece was still the word last week, as Standard & Poor's Bond rating agency downgraded the debt of Greece to "junk" status. The lack of confidence in Greece's ability to repay their debt has pushed yields on their 2-Year Notes up to a whopping 18% to try and incent investors - and by way of comparison, our own US 2-Year Notes are yielding just over 1%! This is why credit downgrades are such a concern, and why the warnings from Moody's about the US overspending must be taken very seriously.
There has been much greater volatility in the Bond market lately, with large price swings in both directions. It's no coincidence that the volatility increased just after the Fed exited their buying program. While concerns about Greece have caused some investors to lose some confidence in European debt instruments, and move their holdings over to US securities, which are viewed as a safer bet, the situation is fluid and there's no telling how much and for how long Bonds and home loan rates will benefit from the situation. Overall - the mix of news and market activity benefitted Bonds and home loan rates last week, improving to better levels over the week prior.