Stocks surged mid-week in response to some positive news regarding the news that the U.S. and China may be returning to the negotiating table on trade talks. Also, the U.S. economy, while slowing, appears to be in pretty good shape for the moment. The August jobs report was lower than expected but had no real effect on stocks and bonds. The unemployment rate held steady at 3.70%, and while the report suggests the economy is slowing, there were no real surprises within the report.
However, multiple mixed signals regarding recession persist. It is hard to reconcile the various reports as there many cross-currents on the direction of both the economy. Interest rates and bond yields are flashing different signals. Recently published manufacturing data in the U.S. is worrisome and support the need for lower rates to boost growth, but better than expected economic data out of China suggest otherwise. An inverted yield curve in the U.S. (indicating a potential recession) support the argument that U.S. interest rate policy may be too tight, but low inflation and low unemployment suggest that interest rate policy may be near neutral and on target. Strong consumer spending and high levels of small business optimism argue strongly against the recession outcome, while a global slowdown and negative yields in Europe and Japan are an ominous signal of a recession or worse in the coming 24 months.
What has been great for many homeowners or those buyers sitting on the sidelines is that low-interest rates are either lowering monthly expenses or helping new home buyers qualify for a bigger mortgage or a better quality home. We continue to be in the rate-lock camp and continue to advise clients to take advantage of the 10-year Treasury note at ~1.500% which has pushed loan rates way down.
Some positive headlines on trade negotiations as well as good consumer readings, modest corporate profits, and low inflation data helped stabilize the equity market this week. Bond yields seem to have hit a floor with the 10-year U.S. Treasury touching a low of 1.47% before settling at 1.50%. While the yield curve remains inverted and should be closely watched as it has historically foretold past recessions, fears of recession quieted this week as the markets stabilized after last Friday’s ugly trading day. However, there remain many potential landmines in the coming weeks that could turn markets for the worst beginning with an increase in tariffs on Chinese goods September 1st, a highly anticipated Fed meeting, and a no-deal Brexit at the end of October. With negative rates in Europe and Japan, U.S. mortgage rates will only move so high, which should keep investors analyzing riskier asset classes such as equities and real estate for yield.
What is not making headlines is the fact that lenders are so busy that in order to slow the flow of business rates are being increased. This disconnect is creating opportunities for some smaller lenders to compete with larger money center banks on deals that they would usually not be able to compete on. Our office continues to see increased volume from our clients who are both buying new real estate and refinancing currently owned properties with favorable terms.
As we mentioned last week, our stance is to lock-in interest rates at these attractive levels, especially with the added knowledge that lenders are filling up to the point where rates may have to rise lender by lender to slow down the volume. This does not mean rates couldn’t go lower, but with the 10-year at ~1.500%, there is no shame in locking in loans at these low levels.
U.S. bond prices rose (yields moved lower) and stocks went negative quickly Friday morning as a result of tough talk out of both the U.S. and China regarding trade. This has become a tug of war over the direction of the U.S. economy against the backdrop of unprecedented trade negotiations with the world’s second-largest economy.
U.S.-China trade tensions, an inverted yield curve, and political issues in Italy, Argentina, and Hong Kong all support the lower rate narrative, while low unemployment, tame inflation, slowing but better than expected global manufacturing data, and good corporate earnings suggest that the U.S. economy will continue to grow. Only time will tell which camp is right.
The inverted yield curve is a very respected recessionary indicator, in which short-term yields move above long-term yields. This inversion suggests that the market is signaling slower growth long-term and that the current money supply may become too tight (banks can’t make money when interest rates are inverted), which could inhibit lending. The Fed will certainly address this inversion in its upcoming FOMC meeting, and the odds are on another rate cut by the Fed in the coming weeks.
However, other indicators are not flashing recession and the U.S. economy is healthy. Mortgage applications are surging and we are in the camp that believes that the lower rates will help boost consumer spending as overall financing costs for everything from autos to mortgage to business loans will move lower.
With the 10-year Treasury trading near 1.500%, we continue to be biased toward locking-in interest rates at these incredibly low levels.
This has become a tale of two narratives, one in which trade tensions and dropping bond yields portend an imminent slow-down in the U.S and world economy and a heightened risk of recession, and a totally different tale of healthy consumer spending, low unemployment, good business confidence readings, and better than expected earnings, which support the no-recession narrative.
Complicating the recession narrative further was a positive revision on GDP on Thursday even as global bond yields moved lower in the U.S. and more negative in Europe and Japan. While our own personal belief is the recession talk may be overdone, at some point even with the U.S. economy in good shape, should the economic slowdown in Europe and China continue, the U.S. will be affected. This ideology will play a role in the Fed’s September meeting. Odds favor another rate cut as the U.S. looks to keep its interest rates in line with the rest of the developed world.
Mortgage activity has picked up big-time as rates have returned to near historic lows. While the high-priced coastal housing market remains sluggish, we are optimistic the current low rate environment will motivate on the fence buyers.
The drop in monthly payments from refinance transactions will also benefit the economy as more money will be freed up for the purchase of other goods and services. Given our belief about the resilience of the U.S. economy in conjunction with where interest rates are at the moment, it is hard to argue against locking-in purchase and refinance transaction as these levels. However, as evidenced by central bank policy in Europe and Japan, rates could go even lower or even negative in today’s world.
Bank earnings this week support the notion that the U.S. consumer is feeling pretty upbeat about the economy. With consumer confidence high, the unemployment rate sitting at a 50-year low, and wages slowly rising, the consumer is doing just fine. Businesses and institutional analysts are not as upbeat citing slowing manufacturing data, slowing global growth rates, a flattened yield curve, and ongoing trade tensions with China as causes for concern.
The Fed is set to lower interest rates by .25% and possibly 5% at the end of July. All signs point to this being a done deal. However, with a strong June jobs report, solid bank earnings, and some other positive manufacturing related data coming in better than expected, some economists are torn as to whether a rate reduction by the Fed is necessary. Other economists believe it is important to act fast and aggressively with monetary policy as the U.S. economy shows some signs of slowing, especially with interest rates already so low.
With attractive interest rates for everything from car loans to home mortgages to corporate debt offerings, there has been increased demand for debt both in the corporate and consumer space. Mortgage activity has been strong. However, home prices in coastal areas are already very expensive so it’s still unknown whether lower interest rates will continue to drive on home buying trends.
Many did not see a return to 2% 10-year Treasury yields, so we remain cautious with respect to how much lower rates can go and we continue to advise locking in interest rates at these ultra-low levels
Equities surged this week with the S&P 500 reaching a record high in response to an accelerated fall in global bond yields. The 10-year U.S. Treasury benchmark fell to 2.00% for the first time since 2016 while German government yields went further negative. All bonds issued by first world nations are trading well below where most economists predicted just a few months ago as the ongoing trade tensions and tariffs with China, as well as a sputtering European economy, and low inflation readings weigh on central bankers.
With rates already low, Fed Chairman Powell commented on the need to be pro-active (dovish) with a potential rate cut should the data support further accommodation in order to stave off a recession. Earlier in the week, the ECB reiterated a willingness to push yields lower through QE measures in order to spur economic activity. With bloated government balance sheets that were amassed during the Great Recession, the drop in bond yields reflects the difficult position the Fed and other Central Banks are in as the path to more normalized monetary policy has stalled. The real fear is that with rates already so low all over the world, there is not much more the monetary policy can do to boost economic growth.
The big beneficiary of low yields are borrowers, as evidenced by the surge in home buying and refinance activity in the past few months. Rates are incentivizing new home purchase and reducing borrowers monthly expenses with new lower mortgage payments on refinances. Lenders remain hungry for business and the drop in rates has increased borrower affordability.
With rates near 2.00%, a level we admit caught us off-guard, we are strongly biased toward locking in rates because lending institutions are at capacity and will need to raise rates to meet turn times. While we can see rates go lower, the benchmark 10-year Treasury near 2.000% is pretty sweet.
In a volatile week on Wall Street, bonds have traded well with the 10-year Treasury note touching 2.350% for the week. Market strategists have had to react to both tough trade talk on China by the Trump administration, as well as elevated tensions with Iran in the Middle East in directing trades this week. Traders flight to quality investments benefited high-quality bond yields such as government-guaranteed and A-paper mortgage debt with yields moving slightly lower but within a tight band.
Back home, the U.S. economy is humming, job growth is robust, and inflation is tame as evidenced by GDP expanding at a 3.2% annual pace in the first quarter. Unemployment touched a 50-year low and year-over-year CPI is running at 1.9%. This begs the question “why are rates so low?” The answer probably lies in long-term economic growth forecasts as well as fears of a looming recession given the potential for an elongated trade negotiation with China and anemic economic growth out of Europe and Japan. Continue to keep an eye on the 2-10 Treasury spread as signs of looming trouble ahead. For the moment, the spread is around 19 basis points and rebounding from the 9 basis point spread just a short while ago. Treasury inversions are one of the most reliable indicators of a recession and need to be taken seriously when they occur.
Home sales have rebounded due to both the time of year as spring is an important home buying season enhanced by the low-interest rate environment. Our feeling remains that the economy is strong and rates should be higher. However, we have no magic ball and so for the moment, we continue to advise clients to lock-in interest rates at these highly attractive levels.
The highly watched Monthly Jobs Report put to rest concerns about a slowing economy as the report beat estimates with 196,000 jobs created versus 177,000 expected.
This data should put to rest for now fears on a looming recession and thus help boost stocks and slightly lower bond yields. Unemployment remained at a multi-decade low of 3.80% and hourly earnings rose to 3.20% year over year from February (which is bond-friendly as wage inflation remains tame). The Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) remained unchanged at 63.20%.
In other good news, the yield curve steepened. The potential flattening of the curve was a major concern just a few weeks ago, as that would be a sign of impending recession. However, a positive sloping yield curve is an indicator of a healthy outlook for the economy. Also, China and U.S. trade talks appear to be going well for the moment which has also helped stocks move higher. However, concerns remain as global economic growth has slowed in Europe, China, and Japan as central bankers continue to provide massive stimuli to their respective economies to spur growth. Finally, a Brexit deadline is looming in what is turning out to be a very complicated matter. So far, the markets have not been spooked by a no-deal Brexit, but that could change as the deadline approaches.
Here in the U.S., low rates have spurred home buying and refinances. We recommend taking advantage of the low interest environment because if the U.S. economy continues to surge, the Fed rate hike conversation will be back on the table. With this thought in mind, we remain biased toward locking-in interest rates at these very attractive levels, especially with the strong jobs report confirming no recession and the positive chatter regarding U.S. and China relations coming out of Washington.
The highly anticipated Fed meeting this past Wednesday did not disappoint. The Fed went “max dovish” in their policy statement by stating no more rate hikes for 2019 and possibly only one rate hike in 2020. Many market watchers actually believe the next Fed move in interest rate policy will be lower, a far cry from just this past December where the Fed believed that two more rate hikes were likely for 2019. Less understood but equally important was the Fed’s timeline on the end of the balance sheet run-off, which will be ending later in the year.
Bonds responded as expected as both government and mortgage bond yields fell precipitously. Stocks responded with caution, falling Wednesday, rallying Thursday, and as of the time of this post, falling hard on Friday.
What’s next? The big question being asked is what does the Fed see that others don’t with such a quick shift in policy. Low rates will help borrowers buy new homes, cars, refinance debt, and also aid corporations, but the return of low rates due to the fear of either a brewing U.S. recession or quickly slowing European, Japanese, and the Chinese economies is quite worrisome. Longer-dated German bunds have gone negative for the first time in quite a while, and our own 10-year U.S. Treasury bond is trading at 2.45%, well below the 3.25% seen just a couple of months ago.
For those who qualify, low rates are another bite at the apple, which will help boost the spring buying season, as well as spur refinances, which will result in more savings or more disposable cash flow to buy other items, so in that sense we are grateful to the Fed.
Should the U.S. avoid recession (keep an eye on the flattening yield curve), rates at today’s levels are very attractive, but should the U.S. slip into a recession, expect rates to fall lower. At the moment, we are in a wait-and-see mode on rate direction and would not be surprised if rates were headed lower.
The U.S. economy grew at the best clip in almost a decade even in the face of a slowing global economy, China-US trade tensions, and political uncertainty in Europe. The strong job market and tax reform helped spur consumer spending and on-going positive business investment. Fourth quarter GDP closed the year out at 2.6%. With the White House gunning for 3% economic growth and the Fed pausing on interest rate hikes, the good times look likely to roll on at least for a while.
Further supporting keeping interest rates on hold was the Fed’s favorite measure of inflation, Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE), which came in at 1.9%, as expected. Low inflation readings cap bond yields and force investors to invest in riskier but higher-yielding assets classes.
Stocks continue to climb the wall of worry and are re-approaching all-time highs. Market risk-taking is back in vogue even in the face of a decline in earnings. A return to low rates has triggered increases in mortgage refinances and have certainly helped on-the-fence home buyers jump into the housing market.
With Europe and China slowing, and the Fed being very careful about its next move, we can see interest rates remaining low for the next several months. With the 10-year Treasury yield under 2.67%, we advise locking rates except for those borrowers willing to play the market in search of a marginally better deal.