Job Loss & Poor Housing Data Drive Mortgage Rates Lower
It is becoming increasingly difficult to argue that the economy is not slowing. Several major public companies, including Microsoft and Google, have announced layoffs. Now, most economists ally with the recession camp. Retail sales were very poor, existing housing sales are at a 13-year-low, the yield curve is extremely inverted, and long bonds are falling. Nonetheless, the Fed is resolute in raising short-term interest rates to eliminate inflation. Why, with so much negative sentiment, is the Fed dead set on doing this? The answer lies in what the Fed is seeing in the job market and persistent wage growth. A survey of regional Fed data supports the notion that although wages are moderating, many parts of the job market remain tight and wage pressure has yet to soften. As wages constitute a large chunk of any company’s expenses, higher wages lead to higher prices, assuming the business can pass along those prices.
Looking at the history of the economy, the Fed has at times, been truly unsuccessful in pushing down inflation. For example, the grim inflation episodes of the late 1970s and early 1980s led to several rate increases and declines. As a result, the Fed had to resort to very high short-term interest rates to finally quell inflation. We suspect that the Fed Chairman does not want to be remembered for failing to get the job done on inflation. He would rather see equity and real estate prices come down than risk a re-acceleration of inflation.
Even with the Fed’s rate hikes, and jaw-boning the markets constantly, financial conditions have eased since late last year. The 10-year Treasury is south of 3.500%, mortgage rates have dipped, and global equities have rallied. This is not what the Fed wants. Therefore, the Fed will be raising short-term rates yet again in early February. Odds are for a .25 bp increase, but don’t count out another .50 bp as their terminal rate target is above 5.00% (Fed Funds are currently at 4.25% -4.50%)
Distress in commercial real estate is starting to make it closer to the front page. There are about $175 billion in troubled loans globally, many of which are coming due later in 2023 and 2024 with the focus being on the office. Some residential areas like Austin and Boise experienced massive price appreciation during the pandemic and are now seeing prices come down. However, strong coastal market prices are holding steady. This is due to the combination of both a robust and diversified economy with low levels of inventory serving as a floor to steep declines. Mortgage rates have drifted lower. Lenders are now thinking about 2023 production goals on how to make loan requests work, especially on the portfolio bank side of the business. This is a welcome development and will certainly help the local real estate market.