This past week, home loan rates touched the highest levels in three years in response to the same theme...inflation fears and forthcoming Fed rate hikes, and balance sheet reduction. Let's discuss what happened and what to watch for next week.
"In a New York Minute, everything can change" - New York Minute by Don Henley.
"Given that the recovery has been considerably stronger and faster than in the previous cycle, I expect the balance sheet to shrink considerably more rapidly than in the previous recovery, with significantly larger caps and a much shorter period to phase in the maximum caps compared with 2017-19." Fed Governor Lael Brainard.
This was the quote that changed interest rates in a "New York Minute." Why? Governor Brainard expects to shrink the balance sheet larger and faster than they did back in 2018.
Balance sheet reduction/Quantitative Tightening (QT) explained:
The Federal Reserve has nearly $9T worth of Treasuries and Mortgage-backed securities (MBS) on its balance sheet, with an outsized portion coming in the last two years as the Fed purchased $120B of bonds per month for most of 2020 and all of 2021 in a process called Quantitative Easing (QE).
QT is the opposite of QE and a process where the Fed removes bonds off its balance sheet. MBS, where home loan rates are derived, can be paid off either through refinance or purchase activity or from maturation. When the Fed receives this principle, they have been using those proceeds to purchase more MBS. That will no longer happen.
In QT, the Fed will set a cap that will increase every month and ultimately get to $35B. The Fed will take the principal up to $35B and give it back to the Treasury Department. Any principal received in a month above $35B would be reinvested back into MBS.
The idea that the Fed would go from buying bonds to "rapidly" removing them from their balance sheet spooked the financial markets. History tells us the financial markets may be over-reacting to the idea the Fed is going to shrink its balance sheet (QT) and push rates much higher. Back in 2018 the Fed shrunk its balance sheet modestly and rates did move higher, but by the time the Fed stopped in mid-2019, home loan rates were lower than when they began.
Much like in 2018, we should expect any balance sheet reduction to be gradual with the Fed quickly adjusting based on incoming economic data much as they did back in 2019.
"A large number of members held the view that the current high level of inflation and its persistence called for immediate further steps towards monetary policy normalization," European Central Bank Meeting Minutes April 7, 2022.
What happens around the globe can affect our rates. This quote on Thursday morning, where the ECB is moving away from its current accommodative policy to something more neutral, lifted yields abroad and caused our rates to tick up.
The next Fed meeting on May 4th is still weeks away. We should expect continued interest rate and market volatility over these next few weeks as we look to see how much the Fed will hike rates and if they start the balance sheet reduction (QT).
As of this writing, one positive development was the yield curve is no longer inverted. For a few days, the 2-year note yield was higher than the 10-year yield. Fears are that this 2/10 yield curve inversion portends a recession. However, history has shown that yield curve inversion typically last weeks or months before any recession. In this instance, the yield curve inverted for just a few days.
Bottom line: Interest rates remain on the rise and the words of central bankers around the globe this week have added to the uncertainty and volatility. If you are considering a mortgage, now is an ideal time to lock in your rate, as the path of least resistance for rates remains higher.
Next week we get important readings on inflation as both the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and Producer Price Index (PPI). If these reports show hotter month-over-month price gains, interest rates may move higher still. The opposite is true. We will also see the buying appetite for our bonds as the Treasury Department sells billions worth of new Notes and Bonds. Finally, we will get to see how the consumer feels about everything when we get the Consumer Sentiment report. Currently, the consumer is not feeling very enthusiastic about inflation and high energy costs.