Stocks dipped and bond yields fell in a light economic news week, but nonetheless, it was a week filled with plenty of market-moving events. The fears of a new coronavirus out of China moved money from riskier assets into the safe haven of government bonds. Also, soft global PMI data helped to lower bond yields, which remained flat but may have bottomed.
Back here in the U.S., on the one hand, the consumer remains bullish as equity and real estate asset prices are at historical levels supported by a dovish Federal Reserve interest rate policy. While on the other hand, business leaders are skeptical and large scale purchases are soft.
With the U.S. economy expected to grow between 2.00% and 2.50%, the consensus is that it will continue to hum along and equity indexes will continue to reluctantly move higher. Some recent positives supporting that narrative include the Phase 1 U.S. – China trade deal and the expected signing of the USMCA agreement.
The strong consumer should bode well for a strong spring homebuying season so long as sellers don’t push prices back up in response to a very accommodative interest rate environment and strong demand. Interest rates are also spurring refinances as refinances lower monthly debt service payments and or cash-out refinances tap home equity to pay down more expensive debts.
With the 10-year Treasury bond set to close below 1.700%, our continued view is to take advantage of these near historically low rates. However, a “Black Swan” event such as this new virus that broke out in China could temporarily push U.S. bond yields much lower if government health officials cannot contain the spread of the virus. For perspective, very few people to date have been infected with this new virus, and the fears of widespread contagion are remote, as of this writing.
Bonds continue to trade in a sideways trend as more positive news is circulating from the White House on a possible trade deal with China. it’s anyone’s guess how the protests in Hong Kong will ultimately affect those negotiations.
With a U.S. election less than a year away, and with the Chinese economy slowing, our thinking is that both sides need a deal.
With the near-term fear of a recession off the table, equities are trading well and were boosted on Friday by upbeat manufacturing data from the November readings. A strong holiday spending season is forecast, which will benefit the economy while consumers, who make up 70% of the U.S. economy, gear up for the biggest spending season of the year.
Mortgage rates remain appealing and potential borrowers should take advantage of this ongoing low rate environment. In a speech this week, the Fed resisted the idea of “negative rates” as an effective monetary policy. Negative rates in other countries with developed economies have seen mixed results. We have often questioned the rationale of lending out a $1 today to only receive 90 cents in the future.
With the 10-year Treasury under 1.75%, our advice remains to continue to lock-in interest rates at these near all-time lows.
The Goldilocks environment helping to fuel the rise in U.S. equities remains intact. Encouraged by an accommodative and responsive Fed, a healthy consumer, and tame inflation, the equities market grinds higher, even as some manufacturing data suggest the economy may worsen.
In other positive news, there was an announcement from the White House that “Phase One” of the China trade deal is close to being signed. Taking all of these signals into account, the threat of a recession has been removed in the near-term horizon. In fact, should equities continue to shine, bond yields may very well rise as we head into the holiday season. The consumer feels good and is spending.
Interest rates remain at near historic lows, supporting our thesis that mortgage rates should be locked at these levels. For anyone who has monitored the markets over the long-term, a 10-year Treasury yield under 2.000% is essentially free money in real terms, once inflation is factored in. Jumbo mortgage rates, which price off of the 10-year Treasury, continue to offer borrowers attractive rates even as the economy points to continued growth.
Stocks rose this week following good earnings news from America’s best companies, as well as some positive news on the China-U.S. trade issues. News can change on a dime on this issue so please take this into consideration when reading this post. While durable good orders were down slightly and the China trade conflict has created challenges for U.S. companies doing business in China, feedback from third-quarter earnings supports the slowing economy here in the U.S. and removes the recession narrative for now. Also, with over a 90% probability of a rate cut next week by the Fed, the yield curve has steepened. This is another good indicator that there is no near-term recession on the horizon and that the Fed has gotten out in front of the threat of recession.
New housing purchases slowed as interest rates rose from near-historic lows which put more pressure on borrowers to qualify. Rates are still very attractive and have definitely helped to spur purchase and refinance activity. With the 10-year now at ~1.80% from below 1.500% not too long ago, we continue to advise locking-in interest rates.
In closing, the U.S economy continues to be in a “Goldilocks” trend as inflation is muted, unemployment rates are low, and businesses are doing fairly well. Keep an eye out for results of the Fed committee meeting along with numerous other economic reports which will be trickling in next week.
Bonds traded sideways this week. There was no major headline, but the markets continue to grapple with whether the slowing world economy will lead to a recession here in the U.S.
On a positive note, some good corporate third-quarter earnings and talks of a Brexit deal were good for the equity markets.
On the bearish side, poor retail spending, a lower than forecasted housing starts report and a poor regional manufacturing survey are potentially worrisome. The consumer has been the mainstay of the U.S. economic expansion for the last many years so if they stop spending then the U.S. economy would certainly feel it. Bond yields were capped by news from China that their economy grew at the slowest pace in almost three decades. The tariffs are certainly hurting China’s overall economy which suggests a trade deal with the U.S. may be closer than some think.
Mortgage rates remain attractive and borrowers continue to enjoy the benefits of these low rates in the form of lower payments or the ability to buy a larger home. As we have stated previously, interest rates should be locked-in at these levels. The 10-year has moved from below 1.500% up to 1.75%. For the moment, there is just not enough bad news to move bond yields lower, especially in light of some comments from European and Japanese officials about the lack of effect of negative interest rates. The Fed meets again on October 31st, and the comments from this meeting will be impactful on the future direction of rates.
Wow! Bond yields around the world plummeted as fears of a full-blown trade war with China escalated creating volatility in all markets. The U.S. China trade war has increased the odds of a U.S. recession as the deterioration in trade talks will add additional stress to decelerating global factory output. This prompted central banks around the world to cut interest rates further as the race to zero, or negative rates goes on. Gold also surged as a safer-haven investment. How this all will end is anyone’s guess.
Back in the U.S., the economy remains strong but slowing as the Trump tax cuts wear off and U.S. companies reconfigure global supply chains due to uncertainties with China. Recession concerns have increased as GDP forecasts have been cut and corporate earnings are slowing. This is what the inversion of parts of the U.S. yield curve is suggesting. An inverted yield curve is one of the best indicators of an oncoming recession. All of this activity pushed U.S. bond yields to levels thought not possible just a few months ago.
On the plus side, one group that is happy see rates plummet are borrowers. Refinance applications have skyrocketed and while the home purchase market has been stalling, the hope is that lower interest rates will spur buyers into action. While we have been cautious about locking in interest rates once the 10-year Treasury note touched 2.00%, the huge surge in loan applications may affect bank pricing so we continue to advise to lock-in. With interest rates so low, for some borrowers, the real cost of funding is near zero which should help consumers make additional purchases and lower monthly expenses.
Bond yields touched the lowest level since 2016 in a jam-packed information-filled week which included reporting on inflation and the monthly jobs report, the Fed Open Market Committee meeting, and renewed threats of increased tariffs on China.
The core PCE reading for June, the Fed’s favorite inflation reading, came in a tick lower than expected. Inflation remains a major conundrum for global central bankers. Even with ongoing massive stimulus programs in place, inflation readings in developed countries remain below targets. This is one of the big concerns for the Fed and is one of the main reasons that the Fed is comfortable lowering short term lending rates.
As expected, the Fed reduced short term lending rates on Wednesday by one-quarter of one percent. Equity markets fell during Chairman Powell’s press conference when he suggested that further Fed easing might not be necessary although not altogether ruled out either. Equity markets have become addicted to accommodative policies and stock pickers were looking for confirmation of ongoing rate reductions.
Trade discussions with China took a turn for the worse on Thursday, which is a big challenge facing the economy. It is hard to handicap how the trade dispute will influence monetary policy and what influence these talks will have on businesses. However, one should pay close attention to bond yields which dropped soon after the White House announcement. With some sectors of the economy slowing, the fear is the added costs of tariffs at both the business and consumer level could push the U.S. into recession sometime in 2020.
Friday saw a good June Jobs report with 164,000 new jobs created in the private sector. Unemployment remains near historic lows at 3.7%. This report supports the narrative of a strong domestic economy. However, the positive news on job creation was overshadowed by the trade tariffs threats made the previous day.
Rates are now so low absent a full-blown recession which does not appear to be likely near term, it is hard to argue against locking in interest rates. With many mortgage products at ultra-low levels, this has spurred both refinance and purchase activity. The monthly savings should be good for consumer spending and may keep real estate prices from falling further.