Mortgage bonds had another good week as interest rates remain low. This week served up several market-moving headlines highlighted by impeachment headlines, positive news on the U.S.- China trade talks, and good housing numbers. Inflation picked up a touch, with the Fed’s favorite inflation gauge, the Core PCE, ticking up to 1.8% annualized inflation rate from a previous reading of 1.6%. However, this annual rate of inflation is still below the Fed’s 2% target and for the moment a non-threat to the bond market. Inflation and economic expectations for the future are what drive longer-dated bonds.
Next week will be a big week with the September jobs report. Given the slowdown in manufacturing and the recent lower reading on consumer confidence, we will be watching the jobs report with much interest. The U.S. economy has been resilient through the present moment and is the envy of the developed world. The big question has been how long can the U.S. continue to outperform other large economies. The jobs report will shed some important light on this question.
In housing news, the National Association of REALTORS® reported a pick up in homes under contract, thanks to lower interest rates. With interest rates near all-time lows, we continue to believe that locking-in interest rates are the way to go as playing the market is simply too risky, especially with lenders near capacity.
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.
U.S. economic growth remains solid and better than many economists thought was possible just a few years ago, though it’s still below the White House’s goal of 4% growth. However, our strong U.S. economy is halting the move to lower yields as all eyes are fixed on the action-packed economic calendar next week which includes the Core PCE reading, the Fed meeting, and the July jobs report.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) reported that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the second quarter of 2019 rose 2.1%, down from 3.1% in Q1 though a surge in consumer and business spending. This pushed the personal consumption expenditures index higher by 4.5%, the best since Q4 2017. Recent tariffs and a global economic slowdown stunted growth somewhat in Q2 though a GDP with a 2% handle is still solid.
2nd quarter earnings proved better than expected as stocks continue to trade well on the good earnings coming out of some of the world’s biggest companies. Interest rates remain low and consumer and business confidence remains high. With the Fed set to lower the short-term lending rates between .25% and .5%, fears of recession have been taken off the table for the time being.
With a resilient U.S. economy and the unemployment rate under 4%, we continue to appreciate long-term interest rates around 2%, but also watchful of a move higher in interest rates here in the U.S. if inflation ticks up. However, one could argue that the U.S. economy does not need lower rates given the ongoing positive economic trends. Only time will tell if gloomier days are on the horizon given the slowdowns of the other major world economies.
It’s hard to time the bottom of the market, but with rates this good, we are biased towards locking.