Market Commentary 9/29/2023

Better-Than-Expected Inflation Readings Fail to Lower Rates 

Although the market welcomed a better-than-expected core PCE report (the Fed’s favored inflation gauge), it had a less-than-desired impact on bond yields. Several factors may have contributed to this subdued response from the bond market. The looming government shutdown, with a staggering $33 trillion in debt, has cast a shadow on any other momentum. In addition, a significant strike by the United Auto Workers is likely to encourage other large unions to demand higher wages. Matters become further complicated by the tight oil supply causing oil prices to push back toward $100 per barrel. 

Speaking of oil, it is worth noting that the PCE metric excludes the more volatile components of inflation, namely food and energy. With energy prices surging in recent months and the cost of living growing larger, this report offers little relief to most Americans. 

Homebuyers Barred from Market Due to Mortgage Rates 

Higher mortgage rates are now dampening demand, making the market inaccessible to many potential homebuyers. Homebuilders try to clear inventory by reducing prices and offering substantial incentives, such as 2-1 buydowns on mortgage applicants. While the tight supply in the resale housing market prevents prices from dropping significantly, an economic downturn could leave people struggling to afford mortgage payments as other costs rise. In California, the soaring costs of health and homeowner’s insurance are becoming increasingly burdensome for small businesses and homeowners. Credit card costs have also shot up, comfortably exceeding 20%. 

Lower-rated credit card borrowers are beginning to make delinquent payments, signaling that the Fed’s substantial rate hikes are starting to take a toll. However, despite some receding, inflation is not rapidly decreasing. Americans are grappling with both higher capital costs and increased expenses. While the economy continues to show resilience, many are beginning to feel the severity of a slowing economy and a higher inflationary environment. 

Prominent figures like Jamie Dimon and Bill Ackman, both Wall Street legends, would not be surprised by higher rates. They foresee rates settling above 5.00% at the long end of the curve. We share this view and are closely monitoring how the markets adapt to a world of elevated interest rates. 

Circling back to mortgages, this market remains difficult and fragmented.  The days of speaking to one or two banks on a deal are gone. Insignia Mortgage provides value by surveying many different lenders on each deal and locating incredibly competitive terms for prospective borrowers, especially those borrowers with more complex or nuanced financial profiles. 

Market Commentary 9/22/2023

A Quick Comment on the Fed, Bonds & Housing


The bond market, which had initially resisted the idea of a prolonged period of higher interest rates, has embraced the idea that inflation is likely to remain elevated. We have consistently stressed that transitioning from a 3% to a 2% inflation rate would be fraught with challenges. As inflation accelerates, bond investors are increasingly seeking higher yields to compensate for this risk. Additional factors exacerbating the inflation issue include surging oil prices, large unions demanding substantial wage increases, a staggering $33 trillion deficit, and a Federal Reserve engaged in selling (QT) rather than buying bonds, among other pressing concerns. Unfortunately, none of these factors bode well for lower interest rates. The Fed’s recent communication, particularly the dot plot, has pushed expectations of rate cuts further into the future. This is because the economy continues to perform better than anticipated, and some indication that inflation may have plateaued at a level that remains unacceptably high for most Americans. While the likelihood of a soft landing is slim, we recognize that anything is possible in these complex economic times.


Shifting our focus to bonds, it’s intriguing to consider why many on Wall Street seemed caught off guard by the prevailing interest rate environment. Although we acknowledge our own past misjudgments, we have consistently argued that there is a high risk of shifting toward a higher interest rate environment. Assuming inflation stabilizes at 3%, and incorporating a term premium of 1.5% to 2%, longer-dated bonds should hover around 4.50% to 5%. This appears to be the new normal, and individuals and businesses alike should base their investment and lending decisions on these assumptions. The far-reaching impacts of rising interest rates are just beginning to permeate the system. We can attest to this firsthand as prospective borrowers grapple with refinancing challenges and encounter difficulties in qualifying for new purchases.


While housing affordability remains a significant issue for many, home prices continue to remain high and are even rising in certain markets. In hindsight, the reason for this becomes apparent: nearly 15 years of ultra-low interest rate policies have left the majority of U.S. homeowners locked into mortgages below 5%. This has discouraged potential sellers from listing their homes, while higher rates have deterred would-be buyers. In an unusual twist, the forces of supply and demand are to some extent canceling each other out. This dynamic has helped sustain property values in the non-ultra-luxury segment of the market. 

Still, there are signs of potential trouble ahead as home builders are starting to offer major incentives such as 2-1 buy downs on mortgages as well as lower prices, in an effort to stimulate volume. Additionally, pressure increases on the commercial and multi-family segments of the market as loans begin to adjust. In some cases, current values considerably decreased compared to just a few years ago.

Market Commentary 9/15/2023

Additional Fed Hike by Year End Suggested by High CPI Readings  

Bonds continue their upward trajectory in response to the latest CPI and PPI inflation readings. As we’ve often pointed out, the path from 3% to 2% inflation presents many challenges. Both the Federal Reserve and the average American consumer face escalating home prices, rising food costs, and surging energy expenses. 

While financial experts may attempt to interpret inflation reports in various ways, we believe it’s crucial to focus on food and energy costs. These commodities, although volatile, are indispensable elements of our modern world. Therefore, the persistent high costs of food and energy, coupled with ongoing wage inflation, are likely to keep the Federal Reserve from implementing any interest rate hikes in the upcoming week. Our expectation is that they will project an additional rate hike in November. Furthermore, it’s prudent not to anticipate any rate cuts from the Fed until at least the end of next year. 

In the broader real estate market, office spaces continue to face problems. Nevertheless, there is a growing trend of companies reintroducing return-to-office requirements for employees. This shift could establish a floor for declining office values. In certain cities, office property values have plummeted by over 50%. What was once deemed a prime asset class is undergoing a transformation. Newer, amenity-rich office spaces may thrive, while older, cash-cow office buildings owned by generational landlords might ultimately be more valuable as land than as operational structures. However, there is emerging concern about the multifamily real estate sector, as a substantial amount of multifamily CMBS debt is set to mature in 2024 and 2025. In contrast, the single-family homes market remains largely unaffected by rising interest rates. This is primarily because many potential sellers are holding onto mortgages with rates below 5%. Such favorable rates are discouraging homeowners from listing their properties for sale.  

Our attention is now focused on the 10-year Treasury yield, which recently closed just below 4.35%. Should it breach this level, yields will likely surge past 4.5%. There is currently little evidence to suggest that interest rates will move lower. It’s worth noting that interest rate cycles tend to be lengthy, a point emphasized by the renowned bond investor Bill Gross, often referred to as the “Bond King.” Gross once underscored the significance of the 30-year bull market in bonds, where declining rates are considered bullish in bond markets, as one of the defining features of his career. 

Market Commentary 9/8/2023

Has Inflation Peaked? Bond Market Yields Suggest Uncertainty… 

Where Does Inflation Go from Here? 

A peak in service inflation may be on the horizon. A noteworthy example is Walmart, one of the nation’s largest employers, which recently announced that new hires will be earning less. This adjustment signifies a potential slowdown in wage inflation, which had surged to unsustainable levels due to the pandemic, supply chain bottlenecks, and substantial government stimulus. Initially encouraged by the Fed, this wave of inflation is unlike anything witnessed in the past 40 years and was largely due to the assumption that inflation would be transitory. 

While we are witnessing some moderation in inflation concerning goods (though still too high by our standards), service inflation remains persistently elevated. This is placing significant strain on businesses of all sizes, as consumers are becoming less tolerant of higher-priced goods and services. This is why the Fed is not rushing to lower interest rates.  

The situation becomes increasingly complex when we consider why interest rates remain high despite indications that inflation might be cooling off. Two key factors come into play. Firstly, the price of oil, hovering around $90 per barrel, is preventing a more significant drop in inflation. Although the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has declined from over 9% to roughly 3.2%, moving from 3.2% to 2% will be a lengthy process for the Fed. Secondly, the massive budget deficits of many developed nations are no longer being disregarded by bond traders (this includes the United States). Our government’s debt burden has led bond buyers to demand higher yields to compensate for the perceived risks associated with holding such bonds. 

Lastly, it is important to recognize that interest rate cycles are lengthy, whether on the ascent or descent. We are currently on an upward trend. Unless significant adverse events occur, this trajectory is likely to persist.  Assuming a 3% long-term inflation rate, it is not inconceivable that longer-dated bonds trade between 4% -5%.   

In the Next Two Weeks… 

Keep a close watch on next week’s inflation readings and the subsequent week’s Federal Open Market Committee meeting. In the current climate, everything revolves around inflation and interest rates. Additionally, pay attention to the 10-year Treasury bond, which is teetering at the 4.25% mark. If it breaches 4.35%, the markets could face a challenging remainder of the year. 

Market Commentary 9/1/2023 

Bonds Can’t Catch A Break Amidst Unemployment Rate Increase 

The July Jobs Report brought encouraging signals for both the bond market and the Fed. However, the workforce saw an influx of more workers than could be absorbed, resulting in the unemployment rate rising from 3.50% to 3.80%. While wages are still growing, they are beginning to moderate and show signs of trending lower. This shift might provide the Fed with justification to hold off raising rates at its next meeting. Although the futures market indicates around a 40% chance of a November rate hike, we anticipate that this might mark the last rate increase of the cycle (if it does occur). On the other hand, mortgage bonds and Treasury yields oddly increased, potentially influenced by a weakening dollar and surging oil prices. 

Nonetheless, it’s important to avoid drawing broad conclusions from a single report. Commodity price inflation and service inflation remain high, and the Fed would likely want to see more substantial declines in these numbers. Conversations with local business owners reveal that input costs are eroding profits. Passing these increases on to customers is becoming increasingly challenging. The persistent difficulty business owners have in finding staff is keeping wages elevated. Notably, a major national retailer catering to lower to middle-income consumers, Dollar General, has reported that its customers are feeling financial pressure and adjusting their purchasing habits. This demographic has been hit hardest by elevated prices and could be a significant concern for the Fed. This context supports our belief that even if the Fed stops raising rates, a downward shift in interest rates might be a prolonged journey. Fed Funds rates could remain potentially elevated well into 2024 or even 2025. 

Loan Success Takes Grit 

Navigating the mortgage landscape is no longer a straightforward endeavor. While we maintain access to excellent products and lenders and are successfully closing loans, the path can be turbulent. Underwriting guidelines at banks are tightening, debt funds and mortgage banks are grappling with an illiquid secondary market, and limited housing supply in major cities complicates loan qualification. Financing costs have surged while housing prices have remained stagnant, particularly affecting higher-end home purchases. In this landscape, experienced mortgage brokers are proving invaluable by sourcing better-priced loan options, exploring more nuanced alternatives like interest-only or investment property loans, and connecting with smaller banks that embrace innovative thinking. Our broker team at Insignia Mortgage, for instance, achieved over $40 million in closings in July, while our fix-and-flip and bridge lending arm, Insignia Capital Corp, closed over $12 million in business. It was far from effortless. What matters most is that all our clients successfully completed their crucial transactions. 

Market Commentary 8/11/2023

Rates Can’t Catch A Break  

Although the Fed is making progress in the battle against inflation, a tougher phase awaits in substantially curbing inflation due to the so-called base effects. The forecast for tougher times cemented itself after surpassing last June’s 9 percent plus CPI reading. Some experts on Wall Street anticipate that inflation readings for August may climb higher since July witnessed significant hikes in oil, gas, and other commodity prices. While service and wage inflation has shown moderation, their persistence coupled with recent wholesale inflation figures indicates a larger-than-anticipated rise. Our stance remains that the Fed will not be lowering rates anytime soon, considering the daily struggle of America’s most vulnerable to cope with rising costs. 

The combination of stubborn inflation and a budget deficit of more than 1 trillion dollars puts pressure on US Treasuries and government-guaranteed mortgage debt. Concerned voices are clamoring in response to the size of our debt and its long-term sustainability. Global issues further complicate the US Bond market with Japan’s loosening yield curve control, China and Europe’s economic dilemmas, and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Investors are demanding higher yields, a phenomenon reflected in the 10-year Treasury comfortably crossing the 4.00% mark, with longer-term bonds nearing 4.500%. The point at which these elevated yields begin impacting the equity and housing markets is uncertain. However, it is increasingly likely that both sectors will be negatively affected by rising rates. 

We recently emphasized the significance of the Fitch downgrade of the US credit to AA+. Although Wall Street didn’t fully grasp the implications of this situation, the narrative has evolved. Unlike 2011, this downgrade reflects much higher debt/GDP ratios, unsustainable budget deficits, and a more dysfunctional US political system. Whenever the cost of capital is negatively influenced, it deserves serious consideration. 

From our network of banks and lenders, we’re hearing signals that the long and variable impacts of Fed policy are starting to reverberate through the system. Delinquencies and loan modifications on commercial loans are on the rise. Businesses are facing squeezed revenue and operating margins. Credit card balances are soaring. These effects warrant careful observation in the upcoming months. 

Our broker team invests significant time in discovering new lenders, many of whom remain unfamiliar with the market. It might sound biased, but having a robust mortgage broker on your side is crucial in today’s landscape. Transactions are encountering a myriad of issues, and the ability to swiftly pivot to a new lender or solve a problem is invaluable. The Insignia Mortgage broker team excels in both these domains, while also securing the most competitive rates and terms for complex loans. The days of relying solely on one big bank for client loans are long gone. 

During our recent attendance at the Inman conference in Las Vegas, NV, we gathered intriguing insights from various speakers about the market’s current state: 

  • Quicken Loans anticipates improvements in the rate market in the coming months. The drop in mortgage brokers, real estate brokers, and salespersons signifies the existing home market remains somewhat stagnant. While it presents challenges, it could pave the way for those who navigate it successfully. 
  • Traditionally, existing home sales constituted a major portion of the market, but current homeowners are reluctant to move. However, around 25% are planning to relocate within the next few years, aligning with Quicken’s recommendation to persevere. 
  • Zillow predicts that rates will remain high for longer than Wall Street anticipates. Service inflation and housing shortages contribute to inflation, and the focal point for home buyers should be millennials, who are expected to make up 43% of new home buyers. 
  • The mortgage and real estate industry must adapt to AI (Artificial Intelligence), incorporating it into lead generation and follow-up strategies. With AI we can achieve more with less. The challenge lies in how effectively we embrace it. While 20% will seize the opportunity, the remaining 80% might miss out. Those who embrace AI stand to gain efficiency and profitability. 

Market Commentary 8/5/2023

Bonds & Equities Shaken By Fitch Downgrade Of US Credit

This week was filled with noteworthy economic developments. The bond market experienced significant fluctuations following Fitch’s downgrade of the US credit rating from AAA to AA. The latest July Jobs Report, though weaker than expected, provided some relief to the bond market (which experienced a notable climb earlier in the week). Nonetheless, persistent wage growth and a tight job market continue to challenge the Federal Reserve. As a result, inflation remains a concern at the forefront.

Amidst these developments, other factors are contributing to inflationary pressures. These factors include rising commodity prices, geopolitical tensions, and potential labor strikes. While the immediate impact of the Fitch downgrade may be limited, it serves as a vital reminder that addressing long-term spending issues is important for our nation’s prosperity.

The Future Of Rates & The Impact Of Inflation

The path of interest rates remains uncertain. Some potential scenarios range from further rate hikes due to wage inflation to a soft-landing recession narrative. All outcomes necessitate careful navigation of the Fed’s interest rate and QT policies. While we observe signs of falling inflation, wage inflation persists, leaving room for at least one more potential rate hike (if not two) in the future.

On the other hand, the consequences of the Fed’s substantial rate hikes over the past year and QT policies are gradually seeping into the financial system. As interest rates rise, lenders are tightening their loan offerings. Narrowing such loan options could impact economic growth in the coming months. Even so, it is worth noting that the American consumer has demonstrated remarkable resilience, readily accepting higher interest rates and loan payments.

The normalization of mortgage rates on a historical basis is apparent, but when combined with soaring home prices, the overall cost feels steep. As a result, the existing home sale market has experienced a slowdown in activity. At the same time, some market segments have witnessed odd price increases due to a lack of available housing supply. Despite these challenges, the adaptability of consumers underscores their ability to weather economic fluctuations.

Market Commentary 7/21/2023

Markets Party On As Risk Appetite Grows Amidst Discounting Higher Rates

The investment landscape remains complex, as it has always been. With the constant influx of daily reports and updates, it’s easy to be distracted by market movements and opinions. In the equity markets, big tech companies have led to significant gains for some investors. Conversely,  a more balanced approach has yielded only moderate returns or worse for others. The risk-on trading sentiment seems to be prevailing, even as interest rates rise and the Fed indicates a prolonged period of higher rates.

In the housing market, although new home builders are thriving, existing home sales face challenges in major cities due to limited inventory.  As many banks pull out of the mortgage market and layoffs have become more common, the mortgage world shows it is not immune to its share of challenges. Smaller banks and credit unions step in to fill the gap, providing opportunities for boutique firms like ours to match borrowers with lenders who prioritize community growth, common-sense underwriting, and personalized service.

New Standards On The Horizon: Inflation, Debt, & Consumer Spending

Equities surge and multiple offers continue to be prevalent in the more affordable section of the housing market. We can’t ignore the broader economic concerns of these behaviors becoming almost the standard as they relate to the inflation fight. Unemployment remains ultra-low and the employment pool tight, commodity prices are on the rise, the 2-year Treasury rate is nearing 5%, and consumers continue to spend (even if by way of debt). It is hard to model how the massive Covid-related money spray and multiple Government stimulus programs will affect inflation. However, there is a greater than zero probability that inflation readings show signs of acceleration come the fall. This may be one reason the Fed is expected to raise rates next week and possibly again in September.

While the markets and consumers seem comfortable with the Fed’s rate hikes, we remain cautious. Powell’s warnings about potential pain may not have materialized yet, but we believe it’s essential to monitor the situation closely.

Market Commentary 7/7/2023

Yields Rise As Strong Wages All But Ensure Fed Rate Hike

The ADP report this Thursday marked a significant week for the bond market, as both Treasury and Mortgage rates exhibited a notable increase. Fortunately, Friday’s employment report met expectations, easing some pressure on bonds. The probability of the Fed raising rates later this month is now nearly 100%, with elevated wage inflation and the strong job market. In addition, bond traders are realizing that interest rates will remain high for an extended period, due to persistent global inflation and forecasts of potential interest rate hikes in other countries (like the UK).

Some argue for the Fed to exercise patience and assess the long-term effects of their rate hikes on the US consumer and the economy. Despite this pushback, there are signs that the rate increases are making an impact. Banks are becoming more cautious with their underwriting box, consumers are exercising caution in their purchases, manufacturing data is declining, and credit card balances are rising as stimulus funds dwindle. One might wonder where we would be if the AI investment theme didn’t re-ignite animal spirits. Additionally, large apartment investment firms are facing challenges as floating rate debt reaches a tipping point, where monthly interest expenses exceed property cash flow. The pain of higher interest rates is gradually spreading beyond the office sector to other real estate asset classes.

An illustrative example demonstrates the risks of buying at very low cap rates:

  • 2021 Investment Environment Net Operating Income: $100,000 Cap Rate: 3.75% Value: $2,667,666
  • 2023 Investment Environment Net Operating Income: $100,000 Cap Rate: 5.75% Value: $1,739,130

This example equates to a loss of almost 35% on the property due to the movement in cap rates. While we don’t anticipate a systemic crisis in commercial real estate, buyers who relied on aggressive assumptions and maximum leverage may face difficulties ahead.

Rate Hikes & Real Estate: What’s Next?

Higher interest rates are influencing the existing housing market, resulting in continually elevated home prices, despite interest rates returning to 7%. This situation may limit what potential buyers can afford. Furthermore, the potential for an increase in housing supply seems plausible if equity markets reverse course in response to ongoing Fed rate hikes. Sellers may choose to sell their homes while existing home market inventory remains tight, rather than waiting for a recession or other negative events. Notably, the Southern California superluxury market is experiencing a swell in inventory as ultra-wealthy individuals are less inclined to expand their home portfolios. It will be intriguing to observe what factors will entice these buyers back into the market. Only time will reveal the answer.

Market Commentary 6/30/2023

Equity Markets Dismiss Central Banks’ Inflation Concerns

The resilience shown by the equity markets and the US economy has surprised many, us included. While we have previously expressed concerns about a possible recession, the economy continues to strengthen. Most forecasters have interpreted the upward revisions to GDP, a tight labor market, and a stabilizing housing market as a sign of two more rate hikes to be added by the Fed. This prediction comes amidst rising worries over the economy picking up the pace again. The latest PCE report has indicated a slowdown in overall inflation. Nonetheless, the report still highlighted persistent service inflation at 4.6%, supporting recent comments from the Fed about the need for higher interest rates in the long run.

A Case For Higher Rates

Real estate investors typically focus on interest rates, construction costs, and cap rates. On the other hand, the equity market is a key indicator of consumer sentiment, risk appetite, and innovation. The recent surges in the tech-heavy Nasdaq index should drive increased demand for home purchases and renovations. Individuals who have seen their equity holdings rebound may be more inclined to invest in a larger and better home. Despite the cooling of the spring buying season, we are witnessing a rise in pre-approvals for new homebuyers. These buyers are willing to accept higher interest rates in a tight existing homes market, likely due to an increase in their financial assets. This so-called wealth effect is what the Fed is trying to curb, but even with substantial rate hikes, its impact has yet to materialize fully. Consequently, we believe that the Fed may veritably raise rates further, with a 6% Fed Funds rate not outside the realm of possibility.

A Case For Lower Rates

Conversely, an argument can be made for maintaining rates at current levels. With consumer spending slowing down, as stimulus measures wind down, and as lenders become more cautious in their underwriting criteria. Each day, higher interest rates have an impact on real estate investors, business owners, and borrowers, as the cost of financing all types of debt has significantly increased. While goods inflation has declined, service inflation may follow suit. Rental prices are also dropping. While the equity markets have experienced a rally, most gains are attributable to a handful of large technology companies. Excluding these companies would leave the overall market relatively flat. Additionally, the 2-10 spread, a measure of the yield curve, is significantly inverted by over 100 basis points. Such inversion is generally seen as a concerning sign and may indicate that financial markets are already facing significant constraints.