Fed Officials Split

Mar 28 2016

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This week's economic data contained few surprises, and the attacks in Brussels had little impact on U.S. financial markets. As a result, mortgage rates ended the week with little change. 

At the Fed meeting on March 16, nine Fed officials voted in favor of holding the federal funds rate steady and just one supported a rate hike. Fed Chair Yellen suggested that the Fed should proceed cautiously in tightening monetary policy to see the effect of overseas weakness on the U.S. economy.  

Since the meeting, however, several Fed officials have supported tighter monetary policy, sending a mixed message to investors. These officials feel that the performance of the U.S. economy may justify a rate hike as soon as the next Fed meeting on April 27. Investors will be closely monitoring comments from other Fed officials to determine how much support there is for these more hawkish views.

The headline numbers for February home sales released this week were mixed. Sales of existing homes fell 7% from January, while sales of newly built homes showed an increase of 2%. The details show that the fall in existing home sales was from an elevated January level, and the rise of new home sales was from an unusually low level in January. 

Both measures have been volatile lately. An average of home sales over a multiple month period provides a clearer picture of the underlying trend, and the three-month average has shown steady improvement over the last few months. 

Looking ahead, mortgage-backed securities (MBS) markets will be closed tomorrow for Good Friday. Next week, the important monthly Employment report will be released on Friday. As usual, this data on the number of jobs, the Unemployment Rate, and wage inflation will be the most highly anticipated economic data of the month. Before that, Pending Home Sales and Core PCE inflation will be released on Monday. The ISM national manufacturing index will come out on Friday.

Topics: Ali Vafai, The Money Source, The Money Source Inc., mortgage news, employment report, Pink Unicorn, employment rate, home sales, monetary policy, mortgage rates

Data Exceeds Expectations

Mar 01 2016

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The major U.S. economic data released over the past week was stronger than expected. Upside surprises were seen in GDP, durable orders, housing, and inflation. The impact on mortgage rates was small, however, and rates ended the week just a little higher. 

The Core PCE price index is the monthly inflation indicator preferred by the Fed, and the readings for January showed that inflation is rising more quickly than expected. Last week's CPI inflation report contained a similar message. 

Core PCE, which excludes the volatile food and energy components, was 1.7% higher than a year ago, up from 1.3% just two months ago, and the highest level since February 2013. Low levels of inflation have helped keep mortgage rates low. If the trend toward higher inflation continues, it would be negative for mortgage rates. 

The housing data released over the past week was mixed, but the much more significant report was encouraging. January existing home sales, which make up about 90% of all home sales, increased to near the best level in seven years. They were 11% higher than a year ago. New home sales, which make up the rest of the market, declined in January. Low mortgage rates and solid job gains are having a nice effect on home sales. 

Fourth quarter GDP was revised higher from 0.7% to 1.0%, above the consensus for a decline to 0.4%. GDP, the broadest measure of economic activity, recently has been volatile from quarter to quarter. The consensus is that 2016 will start on a better note. First quarter GDP growth is expected to rise to 2.0%, well above the levels seen during the first quarters of 2014 and 2015. 

Looking ahead, the important monthly Employment report will be released on Friday. As usual, this data on the number of jobs, the Unemployment Rate, and wage inflation will be the most highly anticipated economic data of the month. Before that, Pending Home Sales will be released on Monday. The ISM national manufacturing index will come out on Tuesday, and the ISM national services index will come out on Thursday.

Topics: The Money Source, Pink Unicorn, Core PCE, employment rate, housing market, housing data, mortgage rates, US economic data

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