And while the Bond market may agree with R.I. Fitzhenry's words about uncertainty, most investors in the Stock market don't... just ask Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. Last week, Mr. Bernanke testified before the Senate and House Banking Committees, making several cautious comments on the state of the labor market and inflation, as well as stating that the Fed would be ready to take action should economic conditions worsen. But the comment that spooked Stocks and helped Bonds was when Mr. Bernanke said the economic outlook is "unusually uncertain." Stocks hate uncertainty but Bonds usually perform well as a safe haven, so Bonds and home loan rates improved upon the utterance of these words.
Mr. Bernanke also stated that one way to normalize the size and composition of the Federal Reserve's securities portfolio would be to sell some holdings of agency debt and Mortgage Backed Securities. And an article in the New York Times concurred, stating that the Fed’s MBS holdings are already problematic and put the Fed in a tough position where it may find itself having a conflict of interest - and here’s why.
While inflation is subdued for now, it’s only a matter of time before the Fed will need to hikes rates in order to keep inflation controlled. But any hike in rates would cause the Fed to lose significant value on their Mortgage Backed Security holdings. So the tough question is... how will the Fed act, in light of this conflict?
Remember, the Fed purchased $1.25 Trillion worth of Mortgage Bonds, as well as several hundred
Billion in Treasuries. Those purchases helped drive rates down towards historic low levels - and yet the housing market is still not entirely healthy. So this also begs the question, what would cause a different result? One perspective is that the Fed - like many in Washington - missed the point. The problem is not that rates need to be lower. Many individuals already want to purchase or refinance at today’s low rates, but are unable to do so because of tighter underwriting guidelines, as well as low valuations. A perfect example is the "no income verification" loan - which has been cast in a negative spotlight as a "liar loan" and virtually
eliminated. But there has been a good track record for those loans in the past when underwritten properly. If the government were to direct some resources towards reestablishing some of these more reasonable lending tools, the results might be better.
Instead - the sweeping Financial Reform Bill was signed into law last week, and the implications of this 2,300-page legislation are sure to be broad. Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan himself said that every page appeared to be loaded with unintended consequences.
But the Federal Reserve and Financial Reform are only part of the picture. Mortgage Bonds and
home loan rates are also impacted by global financial news.
In fact, just last week the Bank of Canada raised rates by .25%, up to .75%... and this could have a major implication on our Bonds. Part of the reason home loan rates have dropped so much has been the currency trade, where the Euro has weakened against the Dollar. Europeans have been taking advantage of the currency trade, and parking money in the US - much of which is in our Bonds. But now, with Canada’s improving economy and slightly higher rate environment, their yields might not only be more attractive for Europeans, but their currency may provide a more lucrative option as well. And the sell-off in our Bonds early last week could have been somewhat due to traders anticipating this move by the Bank of Canada.
Another story of uncertainty is developing in China. China's reserves, which are held mostly in US Treasuries as well as Mortgage Backed Securities, stand at $2.5 Trillion. But last quarter marked the first time in a long time that these holdings did not increase. Does this mean that China is slowing their US debt purchases? I will be keeping close tabs on this because a slowdown in US debt purchases from China could adversely impact the Bond market, as their purchases have also contributed to the low rate environment in the US.
Keller Williams Realty - The Hatcher Group
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