It was a volatile week for mortgage rates. A wide range of factors, including Italian politics, OPEC, and U.S. economic data, caused significant reactions. The net effect was small, however, and mortgage rates ended the week with little change.
On Sunday, Italians will vote on a referendum presented by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. If successful, the referendum would simplify the process in Italy for passing laws. The most recent polls suggest that it may be a very close vote. If the referendum fails to pass, critical reforms for the Italian banking sector likely would be postponed. This would put some banks in Italy and in other European countries at risk of failing. In addition, Renzi has said that he will step down if the referendum fails. This would likely lead to a period of political uncertainty in Italy. Early in the week, investors began to noticeably react to the uncertainty by shifting to safer assets, including U.S. mortgage-backed securities (MBS), which was good for mortgage rates.
On Wednesday, however, OPEC representatives announced an agreement to cut oil production. This caused oil prices to surge over 9%. Since higher oil prices raise the outlook for future inflation, this was negative for mortgage rates. The increase in rates on Wednesday more than offset the improvement seen earlier in the week.
In contrast to the OPEC news, a shortfall on wage gains in Friday's key Employment report reduced inflationary pressures, which was positive for mortgage rates. In November, average hourly earnings were far below the consensus with a small decline from October. They were 2.5% higher than a year ago, down from the multi-year high of 2.8% last month.
Job growth was right on target. Against a consensus forecast of 170K, the economy added 178K jobs in November. The unemployment rate declined from 4.9% to 4.6%, well below the consensus for a flat reading, and the lowest level since August 2007. The unexpected decline in the unemployment rate was mostly due to workers leaving the labor force, however, which is not positive news for the economy.
The next big event will be the European Central Bank (ECB) meeting on Thursday. Investors are divided about what the ECB will decide. In the U.S., the most significant economic report will be ISM Services on Monday. The next U.S. Fed meeting will take place on December 14.