Mortgage Market Update
There are seven relevant economic reports scheduled this week that may influence mortgage pricing in addition to a couple of Treasury auctions and an FOMC meeting. A couple of the reports are considered to be highly important while others are of moderate or low importance. There is something worth watching scheduled every day of the week, meaning we could see plenty of movement in rates this week. The first report of the week will be December's New Home Sales tomorrow morning that is considered to be the sister release to last week's Existing Home Sales report. This report will also give us insight into the housing sector but tracks a much smaller portion of all home sales. Current forecasts are calling for an increase in sales of newly constructed homes. However, this data is not important enough to heavily influence mortgage pricing unless it varies greatly from forecasts. Next is the important December's Durable Goods Orders at 8:30 AM ET Tuesday. It helps us measure manufacturing strength by tracking new orders at U.S. factories for products that are expected to last three or more years. These are also known as big-ticket items and include things such appliances, electronics and airplanes. The data is known to be quite volatile from month-to-month, so a large headline number isn't necessarily a concern. It is expected to show a rise in orders of 0.5%. A large drop in orders would be considered good news for bonds and mortgage rates. Even though this an important report, a slight variance likely will have little impact on Tuesday's mortgage pricing because of the large swings that are common in the data. A large decline would indicate weakness in the manufacturing sector and be good news for mortgage rates. January's Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) is the third report of the week, coming at 10:00 AM ET Tuesday. This report is considered to be of moderate importance to the bond market and therefore can move mortgage rates if it shows any surprises. It is an indicator of consumer sentiment, which is important because waning confidence in their own financial situations usually means that consumers are less willing to make large purchases in the near future. Since consumer spending makes up over two-thirds of the U.S. economy, market participants are very attentive to related data. Analysts are expecting to see an increase from December's reading, indicating consumer confidence was a little stronger than last month. A reading much smaller than the expected 128.0 would be ideal for the bond market and mortgage rates. A higher reading than forecasts would hint that consumers are more likely to spend in the immediate future, fueling economic growth and possibly pushing mortgage pricing higher Tuesday. This year's first FOMC meeting will begin Tuesday and adjourn Wednesday at 2:00 PM ET. There is a wide consensus that Fed Chair Powell and friends will not make a change to key short-term interest rates this week. It is more likely that the post-meeting statement will be the cause of any afternoon volatility. It is worth noting that every FOMC meeting is now followed by a press conference with Chairman Powell. Traders will be looking for hints as to when the next rate move is likely to come and if the Fed plans on making changes to their balance sheet program. It will be an afternoon event that could have a big impact on the financial and mortgage markets if there are any surprises. Thursday’s sole economic report is arguably the single most important release that we see regularly. This would be the initial quarterly Gross Domestic Product (GDP) reading. Thursday's release is the first of three we will get for the 4th quarter. This data is so important because it is considered to be the best measurement of economic activity. The GDP itself is the total sum of all goods and services produced in the United States. Its results usually have a major impact on the financial markets and can cause significant changes in mortgage rates. This initial reading will be followed by two revisions, each released approximately one month apart. Last quarter's first reading, which usually carries the most significance, is expected to show the economy grew at an annual rate of 2.0%. A noticeably weaker reading would be great news for the bond market, questioning the strength of our economy. That would likely fuel stock selling and a rally in bonds that should push mortgage rates lower. However, a larger than expected increase, indicating the economy was stronger than thought, will probably fuel bond selling and lead to higher mortgage rates. Friday has three reports that we will be watching. The first comes at 8:30 AM ET Friday morning when December's Personal Income and Outlays data will be released. It gives us an indication of consumer ability to spend and current spending habits, making it relevant to the bond market and mortgage rates. Forecasts are calling for an increase in income of 0.3% meaning consumers had more money to spend in December than they did in November. The spending reading is also expected to rise 0.3%, indicating consumers spent more. Stronger readings would be good news for the stock markets and could hurt bond prices, driving mortgage rates higher. Weaker than expected increases or declines would be considered favorable news for the bond market and mortgage rates as it would hint that consumer spending is weaker than thought, limiting economic growth. Also early Friday morning will be the release of the 4th Quarter Employment Cost Index (ECI) at 8:30 AM ET. This index measures employer costs for employee wages and benefits, giving us an indication of the threat of wage inflation. If wages are rising, consumers have more money to spend and businesses usually need to charge more for their products and services. The report is considered moderately important and usually has more of an impact on the bond market than the stock markets. Current forecasts are showing an increase of 0.7%. A lower than expected reading would be favorable to bonds and Friday’s mortgage rates, but unless we see a large variance from forecasts, I am not expecting this report to have much of an influence on rates. The final economic report of the week is the revised January reading to the University of Michigan's Index of Consumer Sentiment at 10:00 AM ET Friday. This index is another measurement of consumer confidence that is thought to indicate consumer willingness to spend. Analysts are expecting to see no change from the preliminary reading of 99.1. A large increase would mean consumers are more likely to make a large purchase in the near future, fueling economic growth. In addition to the above referenced data, there are also two Treasury auctions that have the potential to slightly influence mortgage rates. 5-year Notes will be sold tomorrow, followed by 7-year Notes Tuesday. Neither sale is likely to cause a big move in rates, but with only a minor housing report scheduled tomorrow we could see the broader bond market react to the auction enough to cause a small move in mortgage pricing. A strong demand for the securities could help lower rates during afternoon trading. Results will be posted at 1:00 PM ET, so if there is a reaction it will come during early afternoon trading. Overall, Tuesday or Thursday may end up being the most active day for mortgage rates. Tomorrow may also bring noticeable movement in bonds and mortgage pricing. Normally, an FOMC meeting will make that day the most important by default. However, there is a decent chance that we will get no surprises from this report and it will be a non-factor. There is no day that stands out as the calmest day. With so much taking place this week, it would be prudent to watch the markets closely if still floating an interest rate and closing in the near future.