Interest Rates Drop As Markets Look Beyond Fed Hikes
First, the good news. Inflation is falling and it appears that the Fed is near the end of its tightening cycle. Odds are that the Fed will raise .25 bp in February and again in March before stopping. While inflation is still excessively high, shipping costs have dropped back to pre-pandemic levels, used autos prices have fallen, and other goods have followed suit. Gasoline prices are lower and the supply chain is functioning much more efficiently. The job market remains tight and that is still of some concern for the Fed. However, the pace of wage increases is lessening. Bond yields and mortgage rates have also lowered as the 10-year Treasury is now around 3.44%. This has helped bring potential home buyers back into the market.
Now, the not-so-good news. Negative ISM readings, surging credit card debt, an inverted yield curve, and warnings from CEOs such as Jamie Dimon on the state of the economy have all of us on “recession watch.” Generally, it is hard to bet against the U.S. consumer and business owner. Nonetheless, there are signs that consumers are tapping into credit cards more often to pay for life necessities, and business owners are cutting back on staff and hours of work per week. How this plays out over the next couple of months will be an important sign of where the economy is headed.
The hope remains the Fed will thread the needle and the economy may experience a very mild recession. The strong jobs market supports the no-recession argument, while other economic indicators suggest otherwise. The effects of the Fed’s jumbo rate hikes and quantitative tightening have yet to be discerned, as the monetary policy takes some time to work into the system. Lending standards at banks continue to tighten. The overall rise in short-term rates will affect consumers and business owners this year, as debt service costs increase quite dramatically for debtors who either have a floating rate debt or debt coming due.
Home builders reported soft sales volume. While many builders are offering incentives to lure buyers, builders are holding back on price cuts. Housing valuations have held up well and better than some expected. Why? The combination of a low fixed-rate mortgage, a 10-year + period of strict loan underwriting, and a big move-up in home values is keeping pressure on sellers to cut deals. Should the economy move into a recession later in the year, sellers will be more willing to negotiate or list their property for sale as their finances become strained. For the moment, although the housing markets are slow, the drop in interest rates has got buyers looking again. Given that home affordability is stretched, lower rates are needed to jump-start real estate activity. While interest rates are not likely to move to pandemic levels, our experience is that should mortgage rates settle in under 5.000%, borrowers will respond positively.