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Mortgage Rates Relatively Unharmed, Despite Unexpected Moves in Bonds

It was a busy week for economic data with several reports that were pertinent to the housing market. In addition to being the perennial top dog among economic reports, this Friday’s jobs report was especially important due to its role in the Federal Reserve’s decision-making process.

The Fed is widely expected to announce a forthcoming reduction (aka “tapering) of its bond buying program by the end of the year.  If the jobs report had been strong enough, investors thought the Fed might make the announcement a few weeks from now at the September policy meeting.  

 

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Mortgage Rates Barely Changed Ahead of Important Jobs Report

Mortgage rates are based primarily on bonds.  Bonds take cues from economic data (among other things).  And tomorrow’s big jobs report is the most consistently important piece of economic data each month as far as the bond market is concerned.  This logically means that there is an increased risk of volatility tomorrow.

Compounding the issue is the fact that the Fed is also paying careful attention to labor market data as they wait for evidence of enough progress to begin tapering their monthly bond purchases.  The Fed’s bond buying program is a key reason that rates are as low as they are.  Although the market is widely expecting a tapering announcement by the end of the year, the timing of the announcement would have a noticeable incremental effect on rates.

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Mortgage Rates Unchanged to Slightly Higher

Much like yesterday, mortgage rates were unchanged to slightly higher, depending on the lender.  And once again, the differences in pricing strategies depend on timing in conjunction with yesterday’s pricing decisions.  

Lenders who reacted to yesterday afternoon’s bond market losses by raising rates were able to offer flat to slightly lower rates today.  Every other lender was either flat to slightly higher.

As is often the case, we’re talking about incredibly small movements in the bigger picture (because mortgage rates don’t reliably move enough to be worth measuring in day-over-day terms).  Prospective borrowers are likely to see the exact same rate quotes as yesterday.  The only differences would be modestly higher or lower upfront costs.

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Mortgage Rates Drift Up From Recent Lows

Mortgage rates were unchanged to slightly higher today, depending on the lender.  The differences in pricing strategies stem from the timing of changes in the bond market. 

Mortgage lenders set their rates based on the prices of mortgage-backed securities (MBS), which change constantly throughout the day.  Despite those changes, there’s often enough stability for lenders to “set it and forget it.”  On days where MBS move more than normal, lenders can change their mortgage rate offerings in the middle of the day.

In today’s case, those changes were just getting to be too big to overlook right at the end of the trading day.  As such, only a handful of lenders opted to make any changes and even then, those changes were fairly small.

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Mortgage Rates Fall Back to 3 week Lows

Mortgage rates drifted lower again today, with the average lender getting back down to the lowest levels since the first week of August.  In a general sense, today’s friendly rate momentum represented follow-through momentum after Fed Chair Powell soothed the market on Friday morning.

Both stocks and bonds improved as Powell said that he had been considering tapering the Fed’s asset purchase program this year, but the surge in covid cases due to the delta variant complicated the outlook.  The Fed’s asset purchases help rates stay lower than they otherwise might be and rates are expected to rise a bit when the Fed finally pulls the trigger on tapering.

All that having been said, the Fed’s decisions are ultimately dependent on economic data.  Specifically, the labor market needs to show that it can weather the various storm cycles of the pandemic.  To that end, there are several upcoming reports that can offer some clarity with this Friday’s jobs report being the most important.  In other words, even if the Fed doesn’t have anything new to say this week, an exceptionally strong jobs report could easily push rates back up. 

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Mortgage Rates Higher This Week, But Stabilized Today

Mortgage rates stabilized today after moving higher at a moderately quick pace over the past 2 days.  To be sure, today’s rates are definitely higher than those seen at the end of last week, despite numerous headlines to the contrary. The headlines in question are based on Freddie Mac’s weekly rate survey which is published on Thursday morning, but tends to capture week-over-week rate movement between Monday and the previous Monday.  That ended up being a very favorable comparison this time around.  The rising rates of the past 2 days conclusively changed the game.

Why are rates rising though?  Rates are dictated by the bond market.  As bond prices fall, yields rise, and higher yields coincide with higher rates (indeed, “yield” is simply market jargon for “rate”).  

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Mortgage Rates Fairly Steady, But Volatility Could Increase

After a sharp increase to start the year and significant improvements between April and mid July, mortgage rates have been fairly flat for more than a month.  That’s definitely not a bad thing considering how close they are to all-time lows with best-case 30yr fixed scenarios still under 3.0%.

Change is coming though, for better or worse.  Rates could actually move lower, but not for reasons that we’d like to see.  Any significant move lower in rate would require a deterioration of “the outlook”–a term that’s intentionally ambiguous here as it encompasses the outlooks for covid, the economy, and Fed policy.

It will take time to get a clearer read on the covid outlook given the inception of a new school year.  It will therefore also take time to understand how economic momentum is affected by the covid outlook.  If that’s not already enough interdependence, there’s the issue of potential labor market shifts due to the new school year (the theory is that a meaningful number of workers may return to the labor force as their children are back to in-person school for the first time in more than a year).  And of course those labor market dominoes depend on schools remaining open despite covid spreading at a record pace in some states.

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Mortgage Rates Start Higher, But Improve in The Afternoon

Mortgage rates are only adjusted once per day by default.  From there, the underlying bond market would need to improve or deteriorate by a certain amount for the average lender to go to the trouble of a mid-day reprice.  A small handful of lenders did that last Friday (bonds were deteriorating), but the losses were small enough to avoid forcing most lenders’ hands.  

By abstaining on Friday, the average lender was forced to adjust today’s rates slightly higher to account for the bond market weakness.  In other words, this morning’s rates were higher than Friday morning’s.  

As the day progressed, mortgage bonds improved enough for a friendly mid-day reprice.  A majority of lenders pulled the trigger, thus helping rates close the gap with Friday’s rates.  Simply put, rates started the day moderately higher versus Friday morning, but are now only marginally higher (assuming the lender in question offered a mid-day price improvement). 

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Rates Stuck in The Middle

Rates are on hold until the next chapter is written in the complex saga of covid versus the market. This isn’t to say rates perfectly flat–simply that the prevailing momentum has been sideways for the past few weeks. 

Since mortgage rates only change once or twice a day, we can use 10yr Treasury yields to see finer detail.  This entire week took place in the fairly narrow range of 1.29 to 1.21, and it ended with yields precisely in the middle at 1.25%.

What’s the point?  Bonds (and thus “rates”) are muddling through a period of indecision as they wait for clarity.  Bonds ultimately care most about things like the economy and Fed policy.  In turn, the economy and the Fed have a lot riding on the covid outlook. 

The burning question: Will the delta surge do even a fraction of the damage to the economy seen during the initial covid surge?  

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Mortgage Rates Near 2-Week Lows

Mortgage rates were slightly lower today as the bond market improved for the 2nd straight day.  When bonds prices move higher, bond yields (or rates) move lower, all other things being equal.  In the current case, bonds were generally cautious heading into yesterday’s reading of the minutes from the most recent Fed meeting (read more), but have been bouncing back ever since.  

All that having been said, the movement has been fairly gradual.  The average mortgage borrower may not even see any different between yesterday and today’s rates.  That’s because mortgage lenders typically offer rates in 0.125% increments, and it takes quite a bit more movement in the bond market for rates to change that much. 

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*Assumes 2.799% APR, 20% down payment, and conforming 30-year fixed rate first mortgage on a single family, primary residence. The monthly payment you enter includes only principal and interest. Additional required amounts such as taxes, insurance, home owner association dues, assessments, mortgage insurance premiums, flood insurance or other such required payments should also be considered. Not all individuals will qualify for a mortgage loan based on the payment entered. Rates cited are for instructional purposes only; current rates are subject to change at any time without notice.  **Posted APR is based on Mortgage Assumptions
 
 
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