U.S. consumer prices rose moderately in April but less than expected. Low inflation readings will keep a lid on bond yields, as well as reinforce the Fed’s position keeping short-term lending rates unchanged for the rest of the year. With inflation in check, some are opining for the Fed to lower interest rates. We tend to disagree and believe a wait-and-see position by the Fed is wiser, as there are some indicators that inflation may pick up and that ultimately these low inflation readings may be transitory.
In other important news, trade talks fell apart this week with China. This resulted in higher tariffs being placed today on Chinese goods imported into the U.S., which will likely lead to retaliation from China sometime in the near future. How these negotiations go is anyone’s guess, but the consensus is that a deal will be struck eventually. However, there is always a chance that negotiations could fall apart and a full-blown trade war will occur, or that these negotiations will drag on much longer than expected. Those fears, while remote, have helped push long-dated treasury bonds lower in what is known as a “flight to quality.” The trade tensions also dented equities this week as analysts reassess the effects of ongoing trade tensions on future economic growth and corporate earnings.
Low rates do benefit our borrowers and have spurred both a good home buying season, as well as our clients who have refinanced into lower rates. With the 10-year Treasury note trading under 2.500%, we remain biased toward locking in interest rates. Should the U.S. strike a trade deal with China, we could easily see rates move up from here.
A strong GDP reading of 3.2% for the first quarter of 2019 has allayed concerns about a slowing U.S. economy. This result was well above the expected reading of 2.8%. Report highlights include a decline in inflation, which pushed bond yields lower, as well as strong economic data and retail sales. One point of caution within the report regarded built-up inventories. This first quarter build-up may be followed by a decrease later in the year, possibly creating a drag on later GDP readings.
In further good news this week, housing has picked up. This was expected given the time of year and the nice drop in interest rates.
With continued good news on the U.S. economy, important inflations readings next week, and the 10-year Treasury note trading at around 2.500%, we remain biased toward locking-in rates at these levels. However, we do acknowledge that there are many geopolitical and economic issues around the world that could push yields lower in the coming months.
The U.S. economy continues to chug along, at least that’s the consensus for the moment. With consumer and business sentiment still going strong, along with a recent surge in retail sales, low inflation and near full employment, the overall picture of the economy is good.
The Fed hitting the pause button earlier this year on raising rates and running off the balance sheet has certainly helped investor confidence as evidenced by the rise in equities. In addition, mortgage applications amongst other finance activities have improved due to the pause in short term rate increases by the Fed. Finally, the steeping of the yield curve has put to rest rumors of recession talk as several top bank economists see no signs of a recession, near-term.
For the moment, we are in a “Goldilocks Environment” with an economy that is neither running too hot nor too cold. As a result, the spring home buying season should be a good one.
Even as other parts of the world are experiencing a slow-down, it is hard to bet against the U.S. and all of the opportunity that this country has to offer its citizens. However, risks remain in Europe, and in our negotiations with China and North Korea, as well as the massive government debt burdens. These economic and geopolitical risks are capping our rates back home as the German 10-year Bund is trading in negative territory juxtaposed to US Treasuries which are trading above 2.50%.
Given the drift up in the 10-year U.S. Treasury from around 2.39% to 2.54%, we believe rates are range-bound. We can see rates continue to drift higher if the U.S. economy continues to stay strong and stocks continue to rise.
Declining mortgage rates have spurred refinance activity, as well as increased the probability of a strong spring home buying season. With inflation in check and the Fed on pause, interest rates should remain attractive for the foreseeable future. However be on the alert as rates may have bottomed and hit resistance in moving lower after rallying greatly since the beginning of the year.
Fears of global economic activity slowing continue to weigh on bonds. The recent drop in rates has pushed several wealthy nations debt to trade at zero % or below. In the U.S., the 10-year Treasury bond briefly dropped below 2.4% this week and the 3 month to 10-year Treasury yields inverted, a potential ominous signal of a looming recession should the inversion hold. An inverting yield curve has predicted most recessions and the inversion is the result of fears of economic growth globally as well as a lack of inflation. These fears will keep investors on their toes and may create a more volatile rate environment in the coming months.
Given that we believe most of the concerns we’ve mentioned are priced in, we are biased toward locking in rates at these very attractive levels. Any unexpected good news could move rates up higher quickly.
U.S. Treasuries and major equity markets continue to trade benevolently as investors adjust to a more a “risk on” environment. A December wash-out in stocks and subsequent dovish commentary out of the Fed stoked this move upward in stocks and a move downward in interest rates. For the moment, Mr. Market has moved aside global growth concerns, some weak earnings guidance from analysts, and the fear of Brexit and Italian bond defaults. Positive talks with China are encouraging and have helped ease the markets. No less important is the fact that low interest rates spur risk-taking in equities and have arrived just in time for the spring buying season. Refinance volume has also improved amongst other debt-related activities.
The Fed pausing on their rate hike forecasts does raise some concerns given the supposed strength of our economy and near all-time highs in the stock market. Historically, the Fed mandate was to watch over employment and inflation, but it is clear that supporting equity and asset valuations is no less important in today’s world. Low rates have probably distorted true price discovery and the Fed will need to be very careful about how to move rates as December’s vicious stock market decline is evidence of what one misstep can bring on.
Next week will be an important week for Fed-related news. We believe they will be very careful with policy statements and promote their “patience” policy to Congress.
We are grateful for the low interest rates and continue to advise clients to be cautious with respect to floating rates. One quickly forgets how fast stocks and bonds can move against you should the market have a change of heart. A 10-year U.S. Treasury bond trading under 2.700% was not forecasted by many this time last year.
Global yields continue to move lower benefitting borrowers in a significant way. Domestically, the so-called “Powell Put” has helped equities rise as traders have greater confidence in bidding on riskier investments.
The 10-year Treasury is trading under 2.65% which is making mortgage rates ultra attractive again and from what we can see, increased loan volume greatly. While our domestic rates are low, rates are even lower across the pond. In fact, there are hints that the European Central Bank might soon lower short rates in the face of a slowing European economy, Brexit confusion, and looming Italian debt concerns. Add a deflationary Japan and a slowing China economy to the mix, and therein lies the reason our domestic rates while low are actually quite high in relation to the rest of the developed world.
No big economic news this week, but next week will be important with multiple inflation reports coming out. If inflation remains tame, we could see rates move lower. Should we get a surprise higher on inflation, rates will adjust quickly. The Fed calmed markets late last month as they confirmed rates increases and the Fed balance sheet reduction was not on auto-pilot. A hot inflation reading could challenge those statements, especially with a booming U.S. economy, and historically low unemployment.
Home buyers are taking advantage of these low rates, and with a drop in home prices, we are seeing greater activity from buyers. We remain biased toward locking-in rates at these low levels (to be fair, levels we thought we would not revisit again for quite some time).
Bonds have been on a tear as rates have dropped in response to a variety of factors including a very volatile December for equities, a slowing global economy, Brexit, Italian debt fears, trade tensions with China, and dysfunctional political system in Washington.
The Fed this week confirmed that it will continue to be data-dependent and that monetary policy is not just simply running on auto-pilot. This was positive for both equities and those relying on debt financing.
On Wednesday, the Fed chose to keep overnight lending rates at current levels and also opined on the direction of the Fed draw down its balance sheet, also known as Quantitative Tightening (QT), as well as future rate hikes. A few months ago, most economists had three rate hikes forecasted for 2019, now, the consensus is for probably only one rate hike. All of this has pushed the 10-year Treasury yield (the benchmark lending rate to under 2.75%) which has helped increase mortgage applications, amongst other requests for credit.
The widely watched monthly jobs report did not disappoint and pushed up yields a touch this morning. The report was very positive with 304,000 jobs created in January. The unemployment rate ticked up to 4%, but so did the Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR). Three-month average job creation is running at 240,000 jobs per month, a very strong number. During the Obama presidency, many economists though numbers like this would be unattainable this late into an economic expansion. Wage inflation remains in check (as do other inflation readings). Geopolitical concerns have taken a back seat to the resilient domestic economy for now. The U.S. equities market snapped back from an awful December with the strongest January in years. Historically low rates are still in play along with strong U.S employment and positive earnings from many big companies.
It is worth noting that some consumer confidence readings have slipped and how this will play out may not be felt for several months in the economic readings.
With rates on the rise after this strong jobs report, we believe it is prudent to strongly consider locking-in interest rates at these levels.