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There was some debate as to whether or not the Federal Reserve would hike the Fed Funds Rate today, although the consensus was for a 0.25% increase. That's exactly what the Fed delivered. Additionally, markets were (and still are) betting that the Fed cuts rates by roughly 0.75% by the end of the year, but the Fed's just-released forecasts show zero rate cuts by the end of the year and slightly HIGHER rates by the end of 2024. Despite all this, Treasury yields (a benchmark for mortgage rates) and mortgage rates themselves fell significantly after the Fed news came out. Why in the world could that happen? First off, the Fed Funds Rate is not a mortgage rate, nor does it directly affect mortgage rates by the time the Fed actually hikes or cuts. More importantly, Fed Chair Powell spoke about upcoming tightening of lending conditions due to the recent banking drama. That may seem like a simple enough comment, but it carries a lot of weight in terms of shaping economic momentum. Lending and credit are critical to growth and inflation. If lending subsides (fewer loan programs or more restrictive requirements to qualify), it puts additional downward pressure on inflation. And inflation is the key reason rates have remained high. Long story short, in spite of the Fed rate hike and the relatively unchanged outlook for 2024, the market saw some indication of a policy pivot in Powell's comments--some shifting of the big picture cycle of economic growth and inflation. Either that, or Powell's warning on banks caused investors to fear additional banking issues in the days/weeks ahead.
Why Bonds Are Rallying Despite a Fed Hike and a Stubborn Dot Plot
Today promised to be one of the most interesting Fed days in a long time and it did not disappoint. Despite a 25bp rate hike and an even worse dot plot than last time (Fed sees rates staying a quarter point higher in 2024 than they did before), bonds rallied fairly substantially. This could have to do with a verbiage change in the statement that signified a potential shift in policy tightening or with Powell's comments on banking issues acting as de facto tightening that prevents the Fed from needing to hike as much. Last but not least, by saying banking issues will result in tighter credit conditions, Powell effectively told banks "hey... all your friends are going to be making fewer loans, or raising rates/hurdles for those loans."
Econ Data / Events
No significant econ data. Waiting on the Fed
Market Movement Recap
09:43 AM Just barely weaker overnight, but bouncing back in early domestic trading. 10yr unchanged at 3.607 and MBS up 2 ticks (0.06).
12:40 PM Bonds rallying in the run up to the Fed announcement, but not due to Fed expectations (otherwise stocks would be rallying as well, and they're not). 10yr down 4.2bps at 3.566 and MBS up an eighth of a point.
03:32 PM Sharply stronger after Fed events with MBS up more than 5/8ths and 10yr down 11bps at 3.498.
Recent indicators point to modest growth in spending and production. Job gains have been robust picked up in recent months, months and are running at a robust pace; the unemployment rate has remained low. Inflation has eased somewhat but remains elevated. Russia’s war against Ukraine The U.S. banking system is causing tremendous human sound and resilient. Recent developments are likely to result in tighter credit conditions for households and businesses and to weigh on economic hardship activity, hiring, and inflation. The extent of these effects is contributing to elevated global uncertainty. uncertain. The Committee is remains highly attentive to inflation risks. The Committee seeks to achieve maximum employment and inflation at the rate of 2 percent over the longer run. In support of these goals, the Committee decided to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 4-1/2 to 4-3/4 to 5 percent. The Committee will closely monitor incoming information and assess the implications for monetary policy. The Committee anticipates that ongoing increases in the target range will some additional policy firming may be appropriate in order to attain a stance of monetary policy that is sufficiently restrictive to return inflation to 2 percent over time. In determining the extent of future increases in the target range, the Committee will take into account the cumulative tightening of monetary policy, the lags with which monetary policy affects economic activity and inflation, and economic and financial developments. In addition, the Committee will continue reducing its holdings of Treasury securities and agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities, as described in its previously announced plans. The Committee is strongly committed to returning inflation to its 2 percent objective. In assessing the appropriate stance of monetary policy, the Committee will continue to monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook. The Committee would be prepared to adjust the stance of monetary policy as appropriate if risks emerge that could impede the attainment of the Committee’s goals. The Committee’s assessments will take into account a wide range of information, including readings on labor market conditions, inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and financial and international developments.
It's difficult and probably not that important to rank today's Fed day against other iterations over the past few years. It's easy to say that it is probably the most interesting Fed day in at least a few years. We wouldn't even entertain competition after the start of the tightening in late 2021 and that was arguably broadcast fairly clearly.
The only reason to bring this up is to reiterate that there's a lot to learn about how this Fed regime will balance financial stability against its inflation fighting goals. Past comments give a clear nod to inflation fighting, but this is their chance to confirm it with a rate hike and no major change in the dot plot.
Timing of events this afternoon:
2:00PM ET - Fed Announcement AND the dot plot.
2:30PM ET - Fed Chair Powell press conference begins
We continue to assume that the dot plot will be at odds with the market's expectations based on Fed Funds Futures. Dots were fairly unified for a 5.0-5.25 rate by the end of 2023 as of the December meeting. If anything, hawkishness increased since then.
Fed Funds Futures have a drastically different take for the end of 2023 after the recent bank drama:
Futures admittedly aren't designed to predict the dot plot. We would expect the dots to act as a policy tool to some extent even if Fed members secretly suspect rates could end up lower than their dot suggests. More simply put, the dots are based on the info available today about inflation and its trajectory whereas futures go a step farther and consider how recent events are likely to shape inflation and the economy in the near future.
Bottom line: it won't be a surprise to see the dots at odds with futures. It will simply be interesting to see how big the differences are and how markets react to that. The stakes for longer-term rates are bookended by 3.40 and 3.6 yet again, although 3.60 is a much softer pivot point seeing as how it's been broken twice in the past few months.
Overheard last night in Northern California: “’The Empire Strips Back’” is the best parody show I’ve ever seen.” I only mention that because life goes on despite a drop in confidence in parts of the banking system, mortgage rates being sticky, and our industry continuing to grapple with over-capacity. Let’s not forget inflation, sometimes from surprising sources. Recently we saw egg prices skyrocket due to a flue wiping out large numbers of laying chickens. Now, in time for Easter, strawberries, a $3 billion business in California and a staple in many fruit salads, have had torrential rains jeopardize the harvest in much of the state. Many strawberry fields in California are now underwater. There are 40,000 acres of strawberries planted in the state, and it accounts for about 90 percent of U.S. production. The damage is likely to wipe out some acreage (it costs $30,000 to grow an acre of strawberries) and will likely cause further increases in the price for consumers. A 12-ounce package of strawberries goes for $3.17, already rather high following an 8.7 percent price jump last year and a 41 percent increase in 2021. (Today’s podcast can be found here and this week is sponsored by Black Knight, Inc. As a premier provider of innovative, high-performance software, data and analytics for mortgage and home equity lending and servicing, Black Knight, Inc. is transforming the mortgage industry through its best in class solutions. Hear an interview with Jay Beitel of Polunsky Beitel Green on the upcoming Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) case before the Supreme Court of the U.S.)
A second week of declining interest rates prompted another increase in mortgage activity last week, the third in as many weeks. The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) said its Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage loan application volume, gained 3.0 percent on both a seasonally adjusted and unadjusted basis. The Refinance Index was 5 percent higher than the week ended March 10 but was down by 68 percent from the same week in 2022. Refinancing accounted for 28.6 percent of applications, up from 28.2 percent a week earlier. [refiappschart] The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 2 percent from one week earlier and was up 3 percent on an unadjusted basis. Purchase activity is 36 percent lower year-over-year. [purchaseappschart] "Treasury yields declined last week, driven by uncertainty over the health of the banking sector and worries about the broader impact on the economy. Mortgage rates declined for the second week in a row, with the 30-year fixed rate dropping to 6.48 percent, the lowest level in a month,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Vice President and Deputy Chief Economist. “ However, mortgage rates have not dropped as much as Treasury rates due to increased MBS market volatility. The spread between the 30-year fixed and 10-year Treasury remained wide at around 300 basis points, compared to a more typical spread of 180 basis points.” Other Highlights from MBA’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey
Banking sector fears were responsible for a nice little drop in mortgage rates over the past 2 weeks. As those fears subside (to some extent, anyway), the market reaction has reversed to some extent. This is most noticeable in the stock market in the US. Stocks don't dictate interest rates. That job falls to bonds and bonds have been slower to retrace their recent steps. That means rates are higher, but not yet back up to the levels seen before the banking drama began. That's a good thing, but it also presents a vulnerability. Specifically, if banking fears continue dying down, rates have more room to rise. Another key input for rate momentum will be tomorrow's Fed announcement. The Fed is highly likely to raise rates by 0.25%. There's a small chance (very small) they abstain on a hike at this meeting. Either way, they will also be updating their rate outlook for the coming months/years and that's arguably even more important than what they do with tomorrow's rate hike. Last but not least, Fed Chair Powell will hold the normal post-announcement press conference and that will give him a chance to balance out whatever decision is made on the rate hike. In other words, if they don't hike, Powell could speak more cautiously about the rate environment. If they do hike, he could offer reassurances that they're not trying to precipitate any more banking issues. Rates could be rising or falling fairly abruptly starting after 2pm Eastern time tomorrow as a result.
Stocks and Bond Yields Moving Higher Together; Fed on Deck
Today's trading session turned out to be every bit as simple as it seemed like it would be this morning. Why so simple? There were clear indications that improved sentiment in the banking sector was fueling a 'risk-on' trading pattern in Europe (i.e. stock prices and bond yields moving higher together). This extended to US markets, but especially to Treasuries. MBS actually outperformed, which isn't too shocking considering Treasuries were the star performers when the market was trading in a risk-off direction.
Econ Data / Events
Existing Home Sales
4.58m vs 4.20m f'cast, 4.0m prev
Market Movement Recap
08:58 AM Weaker overnight. Europe trades risk-on. 10yr up 10+ bps at 3.587. MBS down 3/8ths.
10:41 AM Moderate improvement since 9am, but still weaker on the day. MBS down less than a quarter point. 10yr up 8bps at 3.562.
01:40 PM Respectable 20yr bond auction without any major reaction in the bond market. 10yr up 10bps at 3.583 and MBS down just over a quarter point.
03:45 PM Stocks at highs. 10yr yields up 12.3bps at 3.606, near highs. MBS outperforming despite a brief scare due to illiquidity. Still down just over a quarter point.
Existing home sales emerged, at least temporarily, out of a prolonged slump last month, and weren’t even shy about it. The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) said seasonally adjusted annual sales of preowned single-family houses, townhomes, condos, and cooperative apartments hit a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.58 million units compared to 4.0 million in January. The 14.5 percent monthly increase snapped a 12-month losing streak and was the largest one-month gain since the 22.4 percent increase in July 2020. [existinghomesdata] Single-family home sales performed even better, rising from 3.59 million units in January to 4.14 million, a 15.3 percent increase. Condo and coop sales grew by 30,000 units to 440,000. The February increases, however, fell far short of restoring sales to their levels a year earlier. Total sales remained down 22.6 percent compared to the 5.92 million unit rate in February 2022. Single-family sales were 21.4 percent and condo sales 32.3 percent lower on an annual basis. Analysts had expected sales to break out of their long slide, but they underestimated the degree to which it would happen. Trading Economics had an analyst consensus of 4.2 million, which would have been a 5 percent increase. Econoday predicted 4.17 million units. “Conscious of changing mortgage rates, home buyers are taking advantage of any rate declines,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “Moreover, we’re seeing stronger sales gains in areas where home prices are decreasing, and the local economies are adding jobs.”
The way bond math works, every man, woman, and child that owns a fixed-income security issued when rates were lower is now underwater on that bond or that security. As long as they continue to collect payments on that coupon, and don’t have to sell it, fine. If they are forced to sell the security at a loss and book it, that’s a different story. When people want their money out of a bank, and the bank needs to sell securities to pay off depositors, well, we’ve seen how that plays out. Along those lines, big bank problems make the headlines, but there are plenty of smaller depository bank mergers and acquisitions going on that don’t make the headlines. And the same thing is happening with vendors and mortgage bankers & brokers. Before I forget, anyone can post a resume for free here and employers can view them for several months at a nominal charge. (Today’s podcast can be found here and this week is sponsored by Black Knight, Inc. As a premier provider of innovative, high-performance software, data and analytics for mortgage and home equity lending and servicing, Black Knight, Inc. is transforming the mortgage industry through its best in class solutions. Listen to an interview with Argyle’s Matt Gomes on alternative credit data and how it is enabling new and creative lending practices.) Lender and Broker Services, Products, and Software Memphis may be regarded as the birthplace of rock and roll, but Graceland isn’t the only stop to pencil into your schedule during MBA Great River. Plan to attend the 7-in-7 Keynote Session on Wednesday, April 5, at 1:30 p.m., where Optimal Blue’s secondary marketing expert Colleen Flynn will cover the CompassEdge hedging and loan trading platform. This revolutionary solution combines Optimal Blue’s unmatched pipeline risk management tools and analytics with dynamic loan sale and MSR valuation functionality. And later in the afternoon, be sure to catch Flynn again in a breakout panel session titled, “Capital Markets in 2023: The Only Consistent Variable is Change.” Both sessions will provide invaluable insight to support the success of your business. We hope to see you in Memphis!