Mortgage Market Update
This week brings us the release of seven monthly reports for the bond market to digest in addition to a Fed-filled day in the middle part of the week. The most important reports and Fed events take place the middle days, so we may see the most movement in mortgage rates those days. There is nothing set for release today. Tuesday starts the week’s activities with the release of February's Retail Sales data and Producer Price Index. The sales report will come from the Commerce Department at 8:30 AM ET Tuesday morning. This data is extremely important to the financial markets because it measures consumer spending strength. Since consumer spending makes up over two-thirds of the U.S. economy, data that is related usually has a big impact on the markets. This month's report is expected to show a decline in sales of approximately 0.1%. If it reveals an unexpected increase, the bond market will likely fall and mortgage rates will move higher as it would indicate a stronger level of economic growth than many had thought. If it reveals a much weaker level of spending, I expect to see bond prices rise and mortgage rates improve Tuesday morning. The Labor Department will post February's Producer Price Index (PPI), also early Tuesday morning. This important index measures inflationary pressures at the producer level of the economy. There are two portions of the index- the overall reading and the core data. The core data is more important and watched more closely because it excludes more volatile food and energy (such as gasoline) prices. If the index shows a large increase, inflation concerns will rise, making long-term investments such as mortgage-related bonds less attractive to investors. This would lead to higher mortgage rates Tuesday morning. Current forecasts are calling for a 0.2% drop in the overall reading and a 0.1% increase in the core data. The weaker the core reading, the better the news it is for mortgage rates. Wednesday morning has three reports being released. The most important of the batch is February's Consumer Price Index (CPI) at 8:30 AM ET. It is the sister release to Tuesday’s PPI but measures inflationary pressures at the very important consumer level of the economy. The CPI is expected to show a 0.2% increase in the overall index and a 0.1% rise in the more important core data. As with the PPI, weaker than expected readings would be good news for bonds and mortgage rates. Also early Wednesday morning, February's Housing Starts data will be released. This report tracks construction starts of new housing. It doesn't usually cause much movement in mortgage rates and is considered one of the less important reports we see each month. It is expected to show an increase in housing starts, indicating growth in the housing sector. Good news for the bond market and mortgage rates would be a sizable decline in new starts, but unless we see a large variance from forecasts the data likely will not lead to a noticeable move in mortgage pricing. The third and final morning release of the day will be February's Industrial Production report at 9:15 AM ET. This report measures manufacturing sector strength by tracking output at U.S. factories, mines and utilities. It is expected to show a 0.3% decline from January's level. A larger decline would be considered favorable news for bonds and mortgage rates because it would indicate manufacturing sector weakness and broader economic growth would be more difficult if manufacturing activity is slipping. Wednesday also has several Fed events scheduled. They start with the 2:00 PM ET adjournment of the two-day FOMC meeting that began Tuesday. The general consensus is that Fed Chairman Yellen and company will not raise key short-term interest rates at this meeting, although some market participants feel it is possible. Even if no move is made, we will be closely watching the post-meeting statement for changes in verbiage that could indicate when their next move is likely to take place. Any surprises could heavily influence the markets and mortgage rates Wednesday afternoon. The FOMC meeting is ending a little earlier than the traditional 2:15 PM because it is one of the meetings that will be followed by a press conference with Chairman Yellen (her first as Chairman). The meeting will adjourn at 2:00 PM, which is also when the Fed will update their economic projections. They will be followed by a press conference at 2:30 PM. These events will probably lead to afternoon volatility in the markets and mortgage rates Wednesday. The Conference Board will post its Leading Economic Indicators (LEI) for February late Thursday morning also. This index attempts to measure economic activity over the next three to six months. It is considered to be moderately important, but likely will not have a significant impact on mortgage rates. Current forecasts are calling for a 0.2% increase, meaning it is predicting that economic activity will likely expand modestly in the coming months. A smaller than forecasted rise, or better yet a decline would be considered good news for the bond market and mortgage rates. Friday closes the week’s calendar with the University of Michigan's Index of Consumer Sentiment for March just before 10:00 AM ET. This index gives us a measurement of consumer willingness to spend. If consumers are more confident in their own financial and employment situations, then they are more apt to make large purchases in the near future. This helps fuel consumer spending levels and economic growth. A drop in confidence will probably hurt the stock markets and boost bond prices, leading to lower mortgage rates. Bad news for bonds and mortgage rates would be rapidly rising confidence. It is expected to show a reading of 92.2 which would be an increase from February's final reading 91.7. Overall, I am considering Wednesday as the key day of the week with the Fed events scheduled but Tuesday’s data can also cause volatility in the markets. The least important day will probably be today or Friday. The benchmark 10-year Treasury Note yield closed Friday at 1.98%. This is dangerously close to 2.00%, which I believe if broken will cause another noticeable move higher. Because mortgage rates tend to track bond yields, this would be bad news for mortgage shoppers. Therefore, I am holding the conservative stance towards locking or floating an interest rate at this time. If closing in the near future, it may be prudent to consider locking or at least maintain contact with your mortgage professional if still floating an interest rate. At least until it is clear whether yields will move lower or higher from this level.