Bond yields flattened after a very tense week filled with heightened geopolitical tensions, as well as significant economic news. Rates dropped Wednesday after it was reported that Iran fired missiles at U.S.-occupied air bases in Iraq. Thankfully, no U.S. casualties were reported. The flight to safety was short-lived as the stock market rallied the day after the attack. Both the U.S. and Iran suggested that further escalations would be halted. Oil prices took a wild ride up and then quickly came back down as oversupply halted a surge in oil prices based on disruption fears surrounding the conflict.
On the economic front, weak manufacturing data was discounted due to the Phase One U.S. China trade deal being inked on January 15th. The all-important December jobs report was a bit lighter than expected, but overall not a terrible report. Unemployment remains at 3.5% and at a multi-decade low, and the U-6, or total employed, fell to 6.7%. The U.S. economy remains on solid footing and appears to be in what is often referred to as a “goldilocks” trend as the combination of low-interest rates, low unemployment, and low but stable economic growth increases our overall prosperity.
A surging stock market and low-interest rates should bode well for the coming spring home-buying season as potential homeowners feel flush. Inventory remains tight, but home builders are optimistic. With this in mind, we continue to advocate locking-in interest rates at these attractive levels. Many economic forecasts are factoring in higher inflation in the coming year, which would propel bond yields higher. Also, the overall global economy seems to be doing better and for now, any sign of a potential recession in 2020 has faded.
In another volatile week in the markets, the September jobs report helped soothe recession fears with a report that came in close to estimates. After a poor ISM reading (Institute of Supply Management) and service sector reading earlier in the week, some forecasters were fearing a terrible jobs number. We are happy to report that this not come to fruition. While we are certain that volatility will be a given, it is hard to argue that a recession is on the horizon considering the very low 3.500% unemployment rate.
The September jobs report was solid for a number of reasons. First, the market was primed to expect a major dud. Secondly, there were upward revisions from the past previous reports (i.e. there have been even more people working). Thirdly, unemployment dipped to a 50-year low and the U-6 reading, which includes those working part-time and those “discouraged” workers who’ve stopped job-hunting, dipped to 6.9%. Finally, wage inflation is under control which puts a lid on bond yields.
Housing has rebounded, and low-interest rates are boosting mortgage applications. Lower monthly housing payments free money up in consumers’ budgets, which can be spent on other goods and services, which helps the overall economy.
With the September jobs report behind us, and the 10-year Treasury yielding around 1.51%, we are recommending locking-in loans at this level. While rates could go lower, it is hard to imagine a <1% 10-year Treasury yield for the moment, given the current generally healthy state of the U.S. economy.
Easing global monetary policy continues to provide the tailwinds pushing mortgage rates lower and equity prices higher. Recent confirmation from the February PPI and CPI also confirmed that inflation remains in check. As stocks have gained back most of the losses from late last year, risk is back in vogue.
Reduced mortgage rates have arrived just in time to boost what has been a slowing new market for the new and resale housing market. Recent stories on the glut of high-end homes (those over $10 million) have brought back the conversation as to whether and when housing will reset much lower. Our view is that a glut is unlikely given the strict underwriting guidelines that banks continue to follow. If anything, the return of low-interest rates may ignite a better than expected spring buying season in housing.
However, fears remain in the highly leveraged first world economies, especially in the corporate and government debt markets. As previously mentioned, QE has created absurdly low rates around the world and true price discovery is difficult to attain. Geopolitical events such as China trade talks, Brexit, and Italian debt levels are also worrisome, as well as the slowing of the global economy. Low rates work as a tonic in addressing these issues and central banks realize that.
With the 10-year Treasury dipping below 2.600%, locking is not a bad idea. However, given where European and Japanese bonds are trading, rates in the U.S. may go lower. Be careful what your wish for, as lower rates may mean trouble ahead. For now, all looks to be OK and borrower appear to be taking advantage of renewed low rates for both purchases and refinance. We continue to be cautious and are biased on locking-in interest rates at these levels.