Forecast plus what’s driving mortgage rates today
Average mortgage rates nudged down just a bit on Friday, in line with our prediction. And, as a result, your lender may now be offering you the lowest rate you could have gotten in about 40 months.
Recently, such falls have been down to the Wuhan coronavirus. But the perception of that outbreak is beginning to change: Although the virus is more infectious than many feared, it so far appears much less deadly. US markets should bounce back today on that realization. But those in China reopened overnight after the lunar new year holiday, creating a tsunami of pent-up trades that saw huge falls. And American investors’ response to the good news may be blunted by the bad.
So mortgage rates today look likely to move only moderately higher. But, as always, events may overtake that prediction.
|Conventional 30 yr Fixed||3.625||3.625||Unchanged|
|Conventional 15 yr Fixed||3.542||3.542||Unchanged|
|Conventional 5 yr ARM||4.188||4.12||+0.02%|
|30 year fixed FHA||3.458||4.444||Unchanged|
|15 year fixed FHA||3.333||4.282||-0.04%|
|5 year ARM FHA||3.25||4.407||Unchanged|
|30 year fixed VA||3.167||3.347||-0.04%|
|15 year fixed VA||3.125||3.454||Unchanged|
|5 year ARM VA||3.292||3.629||Unchanged|
|Your rate might be different. Click here for a personalized rate quote. See our rate assumptions here.|
Market data affecting today’s mortgage rates
First thing this morning, markets looked set to deliver mortgage rates today that are somewhat higher. By approaching 10 a.m. (ET), the data, compared with roughly the same time on Friday morning, were:
- Major stock indexes were all appreciably higher. (Bad for mortgage rates.) When investors are buying shares they’re often selling bonds, which pushes prices of Treasurys down and increases yields and mortgage rates. The opposite happens when indexes are lower
- Gold prices edged lower to $1,579 an ounce from $1,589. (Bad for mortgage rates.) In general, it’s better for rates when gold rises, and worse when gold falls. Gold tends to rise when investors worry about the economy. And worried investors tend to push rates lower
- Oil prices nudged lower to $51 a barrel from $52. (Good for mortgage rates because energy prices play a large role in creating inflation.)
- The yield on 10-year Treasurys inched up to 1.56% from 1.54%. (Bad for mortgage rates.) More than any other market, mortgage rates tend to follow these particular Treasury bond yields
- CNN Business Fear & Greed index nudged higher to 49 from 48 out of a possible 100 points. (Bad for mortgage rates.) “Greedy” investors push bond prices down (and interest rates up) as they leave the bond market and move into stocks, while “fearful” investors do the opposite. So lower readings are better than higher ones
Today might be a bad day for mortgage rates.
Verify your new rate (February 3, 2020)
Virus still big factor for mortgage rates
The Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has been significantly affecting markets since Jan 21, when the first case was confirmed on American soil. Since then, mortgage rates have fallen, mostly moderately, on every day except one.
And, last Thursday, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” (PHEIC). However, over the weekend, a clearer picture of the virus has been emerging. And that suggests it is much less dangerous than some previous epidemics.
Nevertheless, this outbreak will inevitably draw comparisons with the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) one in 2003 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) one in 2012. Both those were coronaviruses, too. The less famous MERS actually killed more people (about 875) than SARS (750). But MERS infected only about 2,500, while SARS was more infectious and affected about 8,000.
Overnight figures show the Wuhan strain has been confirmed in 17,205 (up from 9,692 on Friday) cases, and has killed 361 (up from Friday’s 213). That’s a much lower death rate (2.1%) among those infected than either SARS (nearly 10%) or MERS (35%) had. In fact, typical “seasonal” influenza (just your ordinary flu that comes around each year) has a death rate of about 1% of those who contract it.
And, like seasonal flu, this strain mostly affects those who are older (over 60 years) and who already have existing medical conditions that compromise their immune systems. Fatalities among those infected who are younger and healthier are surprisingly rare.
Markets and the virus
Of course, scientists are still learning about the outbreak’s epidemiology. So its mortality rate may rise. And the virus itself could change (mutate) and become more or less infectious or deadly. So it’s too soon to make definitive judgments.
But information that’s emerged over the weekend may reassure US investors. And that could put sharp upward pressure on mortgage rates.
Or it might have, had stock indexes in China not plunged 8.7% overnight when they reopened after the lunar new year break. Indeed, commodity trading in China had to be suspended earlier because daily volatility limits were broken.
Markets are global
Those sorts of falls would normally affect US markets significantly. But today they may instead just take the edge of what might have been a much higher bounce.
Those falls in China’s markets are not surprising. Because the country’s lunar new year holiday (or Chinese new year) holiday lasted through Jan. 24-30. During that period investors must have been itching to trade in response to the coronavirus outbreak. And they’d be right to want to respond now, even though the virus itself appears less deadly than feared.
Because, leaving aside the health and human effects, the economic impact this outbreak has already had is severe. Last week, senior market analyst at Oanda Edward Moya reckoned the current travel ban alone could create a 1 percentage point hit on China’s gross domestic product growth this quarter.
And you can already see one economic effect this viral outbreak is having. Oil prices have plummeted since the news broke. That’s partly because the number of air passengers has dropped. During an epidemic, scared people try to avoid flying. But it’s not just the oil, airline and travel sectors that are being hit. Already, others are reporting slowdowns.
Economic reports this week
Markets last week seemed unable to tear their eyes away from the virus. But this week may be different. And they may return their gaze to the domestic economy, as reflected in economic reports.
Usually, only a limited number of highly important reports move markets far. And, this week, that would be Friday’s official employment situation report.
However, any economic report can move markets, as long as it contains news that’s shockingly good or devastatingly bad — providing that news is unexpected.
That’s because markets tend to price in analysts’ consensus forecasts (below, we use those reported by MarketWatch) in advance of the publication of reports. So it’s usually the difference between the actual reported numbers and the forecast that has the greatest effect.
And that means even an extreme difference between actuals for the previous reporting period and this one can have little immediate impact, providing that difference is expected and has been factored in ahead.
Although there are exceptions, you can usually expect downward pressure on mortgage rates from worse-than-expected figures and upward on better ones. However, for most reports, much of the time, that pressure may be imperceptible or barely perceptible.
This week’s calendar
This week’s calendar for economic reports comprises:
- Monday: January’s Institute for Supply Management ISM manufacturing index (actual 50.90%; forecast 48.5%) and December’s construction spending (actual -0.2%; forecast +0.6%). January’s motor vehicle sales (forecast 16.7 million vehicles) will emerge during the day as individual manufacturers release their figures
- Tuesday: December factory orders (forecast +1.4%)
- Wednesday: January’s ISM nonmanufacturing index (forecast 54.9%) and December’s trade deficit (forecast -$48.5 billion)
- Thursday: For the 4th quarter of 2019: productivity (forecast +1.8%) and unit labor costs (forecast +0.9%)
- Friday: January’s employment situation report, comprising nonfarm payrolls (forecast 164,000 new jobs), unemployment rate (forecast 3.5%) and average hourly earnings (forecast +0.3%)
Friday’s the big day. But, if their focus is returning to the US’s economic performance, markets may react to other reports.
Today’s drivers of change
What 2020 might hold
The year 2019 ended with most stock indexes at exceptional or record highs. And investors had one of the best 12 months in living memory. So will 2020 bring more of the same? It mostly has so far.
But few think that will continue for long. Still, most economists, analysts and observers seem to believe we’re looking at an OK year.
Certainly, fewer are expecting a US recession during 2020 than was the case a few months ago. When Reuters polled 100 economists in January, about 20-25% thought one was coming this year and around 30-35% expected one within the next two years.
That survey also saw a consensus among the economists polled over the expectation that the US economy would “coast” this year, “with annualized growth expected to have barely moved from the latest reported rate of 2.1%” through to the second quarter of 2021.
The Federal Reserve’s role
And several financial reviews of 2019 warned that stock market rises have largely been fueled by the Federal Reserve’s actions rather than underlying economic strength. But the Fed’s supply of metaphorical gas to maintain such momentum is running low — as is its willingness to use what’s left. That was confirmed on Jan. 29, following that month’s policy meeting.
So market growth this year may be way more modest than in 2019, though many reckon it will remain positive. On Jan. 6, The Financial Times carried an analysis under the headline, “Fed looks forward to ‘boring’ 2020 after frenetic year.”
Don’t take forecasts too seriously
Just don’t take such forecasts too seriously. And never forget a remark made by the late Harvard economics professor John Kenneth Galbraith:
The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.
Real-world forecasts also gloomy
On Jan. 20, global accountancy firm PwC unveiled its 23rd annual survey, which this year polled almost 1,600 chief executive officers (CEOs) from 83 countries. A whopping 53% of respondents predicted a decline in global GDP growth in 2020. That was up from 29% in 2019 and 5% in 2018.
Who was most pessimistic? Those from North America, where 63% of CEOs expected lower global growth. And only 36% of American CEOs were positive about their own companies’ prospects for the year ahead. Again, that was many fewer than in 2019. Chair of the PwC network Bob Moritz issued a statement:
Given the lingering uncertainty over trade tensions, geopolitical issues and the lack of agreement on how to deal with climate change, the drop in confidence in economic growth is not surprising — even if the scale of the change in mood is. These challenges facing the global economy are not new — however the scale of them and the speed at which some of them are escalating is new.
Lower mortgage rates ahead?
It’s not hard to find experts who predict that mortgage rates could plumb new depths in 2020. And they may be proved right.
Those issues highlighted in the PwC survey are real. A recession still might arise. The phase-two US-China trade talks could collapse and the whole dispute escalate. The Wuhan coronavirus could mutate and turn into a devastating pandemic. Or some undreamed-of crisis could come out of nowhere. Any of those could send those rates plummeting. But they’re all highly speculative.
And don’t forget John Kenneth Galbraith’s observation.
Mortgage rate forecasts for 2020
It may be a mistake to rely on experts’ forecasts. But there’s nothing wrong with taking them into account, appropriately seasoned with a pinch of salt. After all, who else are we going to ask when making plans?
Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) each has a team of economists dedicated to monitoring and forecasting what will happen to the economy, the housing sector and mortgage rates. And here are their latest forecasts for the average rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage during each quarter (Q1, Q2 …) in 2020. All were published in January 2020, except Freddie’s, which usually appears near the end of each month but seems to be late:
Freddie Mac reckons that particular mortgage rate averaged 3.9% during 2019. So, if the experts’ forecasts turn out to be right, it could be another good year for new mortgage borrowers — and for existing ones who want to refinance.
Negative mortgage rates
Just don’t expect zero or negative mortgage rates in America anytime soon. Still, they’re not unthinkable within a year or two.
Already, Denmark’s Jyske Bank is offering its local customers a mortgage with a nominal interest rate of -0.5%. Yes, that’s minus 0.5%. However, after fees, that’s likely to be closer to a free or incredibly cheap mortgage than one that actually pays borrowers.
But don’t think there isn’t a wider price to pay for ultralow mortgage rates. On Dec. 18, The New York Times reported that, in much of Europe, these are “driving a property boom that is pricing many residents out of big cities and causing concern among policymakers.” And many fear a bubble that could end badly.
For now, trade may be on the back burner for markets. That’s because, on January 15, President Donald Trump signed a phase-one trade agreement with China’s Vice-Premier Liu He.
The wide-ranging deal covers some important areas, including commitments from China to:
- Buy $200 billion-worth of specific US products over the following two years
- Better protect American companies’ intellectual property
- Stop the transfer of technologies from the US
- Cease manipulating its currency
So why did markets respond in such muted ways to the signing? And why should you still see trade disputes as a continuing factor in future mortgage rates?
Critics’ views of the phase-one trade deal
Well, some perceive the deal as weak in key areas:
- No independent dispute resolution — If the US believes China is reneging, it can only engage in further talks and introduce new tariffs
- Some doubt China’s ability to make good on its $200 billion purchasing commitment
- The intellectual property sections contain little that’s new — They mostly restate existing agreements
- There is no provision for reining in China’s system of government subsidies for industries
- It fails to address concerns about cybersecurity and the Chinese hacking of American companies’ IT infrastructures
The White House would argue that those alleged weaknesses will be addressed in a phase-two deal. But most think that’s unlikely to materialize until after this year’s presidential election.
Limited economic boost
Following its January poll of economists, Reuters chose to quote Janwillem Acket, who’s chief economist at Julius Baer, as representative of wider opinions:
The recent Phase 1 deal between the U.S. and China suggests decreasing odds of an escalation to a full-blown trade war. However, the deal so far is not comprehensive enough to significantly boost economic momentum.
However, perhaps the new deal’s biggest drawback is that it leaves so many tariffs still in place. According to an analysis, published on the day of the signing, by the Peterson Institute for International Economics:
Even with the phase one deal in effect, Trump will have increased the average US tariff on imports from China to 19.3% from 3.0% in January 2018. The deal means the average US tariff will be reduced only slightly from its current level of 21.0%.
And this dispute has been causing some pain to both sides. China’s slipped to third place from first in the Census Bureau’s list of America’s trading partners. And its economy is certainly under strain. Indeed, on Jan. 17, China reported its slowest annual GDP growth in 29 years — though that was still +6.1% in 2019.
But the dispute’s impact here has also been painful for many.
Higher prices for American families
A September study by the nonpartisan National Foundation for American Policy estimated, “the tariffs will cost the average household $2,031 per year, and will be recurring so long as the tariffs stay in effect.”
Now, the White House would undoubtedly challenge that figure, as do some more independent analyses. Some believe that American businesses are bearing much of the cost and are yet to pass that on to consumers. And prices may rise significantly only when stocks of goods that arrived before tariffs were introduced are exhausted. Many importers increased their orders earlier last year to get in ahead of tariff implementation dates.
But, on Dec. 2, New York Federal Reserve Bank researchers published a report that showed that American businesses and consumers were indeed bearing the brunt of the tariffs. They found Chinese import prices fell by only 2% between June 2018 and September 2019. And that means Americans were picking up the rest of the tab on tariffs as high as 25%. It’s how the pain is distributed that’s disputed.
Of course, both those studies were conducted before the new phase-one deal was announced. Now that’s signed, you can shave perhaps 11% off additional tariff costs, according to calculations by Yahoo! Finance.
European Union next?
The president occasionally makes bellicose remarks about what he perceives to be an unfair trade imbalance between the US and the European Union. The EU is the world’s biggest trading bloc. Together, its member states form a larger economy than China or even America.
The administration has already in 2019 imposed tariffs on nearly $10 billion worth of imports from the EU, including $2.4 billion on French luxury goods in December. However, a couple of glimmers of light emerged during the World Economic Forum in Davos (Jan 21-24), which was attended by the president and other world leaders.
During the week of the forum, French officials suggested that a temporary trade truce had been agreed to allow for further talks. And, on Jan 22, hopes for a new US-EU trade agreement grew. That week, The Financial Times ran a headline, “Trump and EU promise to press on to reach trade deal.”
How trade disputes hurt
All this has been fueling uncertainty in markets. And that, in turn, created volatility. Many of the recent wild swings in mortgage rates, bond yields, stock markets, and gold and oil prices have been down to hopes and fears over trade.
Markets generally hate trade disputes because they introduce uncertainty, dampen trade, slow global growth and are disruptive to established supply chains. President Trump is confident that analysis is wrong and that America will come out a winner.
It currently looks highly likely that the US Sentate will acquit the president when it votes on Wednesday at the end of its impeachment trial.
On Dec. 19, The New York Times reiterated a view it had expressed earlier:
… the stock market has been largely unfazed by the news of impeachment proceedings, and that is unlikely to change …
And the Times’s predictions look set to be proved correct. Chances are, the entire impeachment process will have had little-to-zero effect on markets.
Rate lock recommendation
We suggest that you lock if you’re less than 30 days from closing. True, mortgage rates have been moving within unusually tight ranges in recent months. So the risk of floating for longer may be limited. But the prospect of worthwhile gains seems similarly restricted, assuming an absence of earth-shattering news.
Of course, we’re keeping our eye on the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak. But its positive effects on rates may already be over. And there might easily be a bounce as its risks are perceived to fade.
Inevitably, markets are likely to move more sharply and decisively sometime soon. But we still can’t be sure what might trigger that. And so the direction in which they’ll take off is equally unknown.
However, none of this means we expect you to lock on days when mortgage rates are actively falling. That advice is intended for more normal times.
Only you can decide
Of course, financially conservative borrowers might want to lock immediately, almost regardless of when they’re due to close. After all, current mortgage rates remain exceptionally low and a great deal is assured.
On the other hand, risk-takers might prefer to bide their time and take a chance on future falls. But only you can decide on the level of risk with which you’re personally comfortable.
If you are still floating, do remain vigilant right up until you lock. Continue to watch key markets and news cycles closely. In particular, look out for stories that might affect the performance of the American economy. As a very general rule, good news tends to push mortgage rates up, while bad drags them down.
When to lock anyway
You may wish to lock your loan anyway if you are buying a home and have a higher debt-to-income ratio than most. Indeed, you should be more inclined to lock because any rises in rates could kill your mortgage approval. If you’re refinancing, that’s less critical and you may be able to gamble and float.
If your closing is weeks or months away, the decision to lock or float becomes complicated. Obviously, if you know rates are rising, you want to lock in as soon as possible. However, the longer your lock, the higher your upfront costs. On the flip side, if a higher rate would wipe out your mortgage approval, you’ll probably want to lock in even if it costs more.
If you’re still floating, stay in close contact with your lender, and keep an eye on markets.
Bearing in mind professor Galbraith’s warning, I personally recommend:
- LOCK if closing in 7 days
- LOCK if closing in 15 days
- LOCK if closing in 30 days
- FLOAT if closing in 45 days
- FLOAT if closing in 60 days
But it’s entirely your decision.
What causes rates to rise and fall?
Mortgage interest rates depend a great deal on the expectations of investors. Good economic news tends to be bad for interest rates because an active economy raises concerns about inflation. Inflation causes fixed-income investments like bonds to lose value, and that causes their yields (another way of saying interest rates) to increase.
For example, suppose that two years ago, you bought a $1,000 bond paying 5% interest ($50) each year. (This is called its “coupon rate” or “par rate” because you paid $1,000 for a $1,000 bond, and because its interest rate equals the rate stated on the bond — in this case, 5%).
- Your interest rate: $50 annual interest / $1,000 = 5.0%
When rates fall
That’s a pretty good rate today, so lots of investors want to buy it from you. You can sell your $1,000 bond for $1,200. The buyer gets the same $50 a year in interest that you were getting. It’s still 5% of the $1,000 coupon. However, because he paid more for the bond, his return is lower.
- Your buyer’s interest rate: $50 annual interest / $1,200 = 4.2%
The buyer gets an interest rate, or yield, of only 4.2%. And that’s why, when demand for bonds increases and bond prices go up, interest rates go down.
When rates rise
However, when the economy heats up, the potential for inflation makes bonds less appealing. With fewer people wanting to buy bonds, their prices decrease, and then interest rates go up.
Imagine that you have your $1,000 bond, but you can’t sell it for $1,000 because unemployment has dropped and stock prices are soaring. You end up getting $700. The buyer gets the same $50 a year in interest, but the yield looks like this:
- $50 annual interest / $700 = 7.1%
The buyer’s interest rate is now slightly more than 7%. Interest rates and yields are not mysterious. You calculate them with simple math.
Mortgage rate methodology
The Mortgage Reports receives rates based on selected criteria from multiple lending partners each day. We arrive at an average rate and APR for each loan type to display in our chart. Because we average an array of rates, it gives you a better idea of what you might find in the marketplace. Furthermore, we average rates for the same loan types. For example, FHA fixed with FHA fixed. The end result is a good snapshot of daily rates and how they change over time.