Forecast plus what’s driving mortgage rates today
Average mortgage rates moved lower again yesterday. The drop was smaller than those on the two preceding business days. But it was worth having.
There’s a good chance yesterday’s fall was a result of the Federal Reserve’s continuing intervention in the mortgage bond market (see below for more details). But three days of decreasing mortgage rates doesn’t mean the Fed’s won or that more falls are assured. And we could be in for some bumps in the road soon.Find and lock current rates. (Jun 2nd, 2020)
|Conventional 30 yr Fixed||3.938||3.938||Unchanged|
|Conventional 15 yr Fixed||3.875||3.875||-0.06%|
|Conventional 5 yr ARM||3.5||3.5||Unchanged|
|30 year fixed FHA||5.25||6.252||Unchanged|
|15 year fixed FHA||3.5||4.449||Unchanged|
|5 year ARM FHA||3.875||3.791||-0.01%|
|30 year fixed VA||3.375||3.558||+0.06%|
|15 year fixed VA||3.875||4.211||+0.63%|
|5 year ARM VA||3.625||2.833||-0.01%|
|Your rate might be different. Click here for a personalized rate quote. See our rate assumptions here.|
Predicting what will happen to mortgage rates today remains impossible — and will do so until they get back into alignment with other markets. But we remain optimistic that the Fed will prevent the most serious rises and maybe push them lower in coming days and weeks.
Market data affecting (or not) today’s mortgage rates
We still see no reason to think markets are currently providing many clues as to what may happen to mortgage rates today. But, in the hope you have insights that we’re missing, here’s the state of play. By approaching 10 a.m. (ET), the data, compared with roughly the same time yesterday morning, were:
- Major stock indexes were again 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 up to $1,690 an ounce from $1,680. (Good 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. But if they’re not worried now …
- Oil prices nudged lower to $26.39 a barrel from $27.34 (Good for mortgage rates* because energy prices play a large role in creating inflation and also point to future economic activity.)
- The yield on 10-year Treasurys pushed higher to 0.75% from 0.65%. A year ago, it was at 2.50%. (Bad for mortgage rates.) More than any other market, mortgage rates normally tend to follow these particular Treasury bond yields, though less so recently
- CNN Business Fear & Greed index moved up to 30 from 27 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
*A change of a few dollars on gold prices or a few cents on oil ones is a tiny fraction of 1%. So we only count meaningful differences as good or bad for mortgage rates.
We should brace ourselves for one or more rises in mortgage rates soon. But nobody knows when those will come. Because mortgage rates remain untethered from markets and markets from reality. Still, we hope the Fed will hold the line against investors who’d like those rates to be higher. And that an overall downward trend will emerge.
Rate lock advice
Based on today’s mortgage rates and market movements, 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.
The Fed might end up pushing down rates over the coming weeks, though that’s far from certain. And you can expect plenty of bad days.
More importantly, the coronavirus has created massive uncertainty — and disruption that seems capable of defying in the short term all human efforts, including perhaps the Fed’s. So locking or floating is a gamble either way.
How the Fed’s helping mortgage rates
In an announcement on March 23, the Federal Reserve said it was lifting the previous cap on its purchases of mortgage-backed securities (MBSs). For now, there would be no limit on how much it would spend buying these.
MBSs are bond-like instruments: bundles of mortgages that are traded on a secondary market. Picture a tall pile of different closing documents tied up with string and you’re probably getting the concept, even if the reality is often more digital. Chances are, your existing mortgage is tied up in just such a bundle and forms part of an MBS.
And it’s the going price of these bundles on that secondary market that more than anything else determines your next mortgage rate.
For reasons explained near the end of this article, the higher the price of MBSs, the lower the rate you’ll pay. Given that the Fed is a uniquely huge new buyer in that market, it should generate increased demand that raises MBS prices and so creates lower yields and mortgage rates.
Yesterday’s Financial Times reports, “The US central bank bought more than $1m of assets per second over past two weeks.” [Our emphasis.] While MBSs are only a part of those purchases, the Fed’s clearly not holding back.
So that’s the theory. But we’ve seen a lot of those crumble to dust in recent weeks. And only time will tell how well this one holds up in practice.
Challenges to the Fed’s program
That Fed program has so far had only a limited effect on mortgage rates. Indeed, it was only yesterday that they dipped lower than they were on March 23, when unlimited purchases were announced. So how come they’re not already much lower?
Well, there’s a lot going on here. But a big reason may be a resurgence in new applications from consumers for mortgages and especially refinances. During the seven days ending March 27, those refinances jumped 26% compared with the previous week, and were up 168% on the same period in 2019, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
Investors hate refinances, especially if they’re for mortgages that are recent. Each sees a mortgage pulled from an MBS bundle — and a reduction of income and profit on that MBS. Some investors make losses on especially fast refinancings.
So the last thing they want is to replace lost mortgages with ones at an even lower rate. And, understandably, they shy away from MBSs. But supply and demand mean that inevitably pushes up mortgage rates.
So the Fed is trying to resist the market forces that arise when investors vote so decisively with their feet. We still think it likely (though far from certain) that it will get its way in the end and push mortgage rates somewhat lower. But don’t expect a smooth ride.
Fly meets ointment
Last Thursday, National Mortgage Professional (NMP) magazine led with this:
Moody’s has announced that it has changed its outlook on the non-bank mortgage sector from “Stable” to “Negative,” as liquidity issues continue to cause concern amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Non-bank mortgage companies currently originate and service more than half of all residential mortgages in the U.S.
In other words, many of the companies that originate mortgages but that aren’t actual banks are having cash flow problems arising from COVID-19. Ratings agency Moody’s expects them to get over those in a year or so. But, in the meantime, that could cause supply issues in the residential mortgage market.
And, of course, a reduced supply of any product tends to push prices (or rates in this case) upward. This happens further down the mortgage production line than where the Fed is tinkering. So we may see (or have already seen) higher rates that are unconnected with MBS prices. Yesterday, NMP reported that mortgage industry lobbyists were calling on government regulators to fill the liquidity gap.
You can now understand why we said there’s a lot going on here.
New stimulus package
On March 27, President Donald Trump signed into law H.R. 748, The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), a $2.2-trillion stimulus package.
After recent rises in response to that package, it may feel as if stock markets have largely recovered from their earlier coronavirus falls. But the reality is quite different. Last Tuesday marked the end of this year’s first quarter. And Wall Street indexes were down on average 20% over that period. Since then, they’ve been up and down, though most recently up.
More pain ahead?
Investors continue to ignore the possibility of a nasty financial hangover after the stimulus. Last Thursday, we learned that very nearly 10 million Americans had filed new claims for unemployment insurance within the previous two weeks. And on March 25, The New York Times quoted analysts at the Eurasia Group:
The U.S. is likely on pace for an annual deficit of at least $4 trillion and likely higher, in the range of 15-20 percent of G.D.P. [gross domestic product].
But, also on March 25, the same newspaper noted, “With the $2 trillion economic stimulus just signed into law on Friday, Washington is already considering a fourth response package to combat the spread of the coronavirus and bolster a shuddering economy.” That now seems close to inevitable.
Some economists subscribe to modern monetary theory (MMT), which says we shouldn’t be too bothered by large national debts and deficits. But many still will be.
Unemployment could soar
Social media have recently started sharing widely some scary employment numbers contained in a blog published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis on March 24. It predicted 47.05 million Americans could be laid off during the second quarter (April through June) of this year, bringing the unemployment rate to 32.1%.
To be fair, the author stressed that this was just one possible outcome based on a model containing several assumptions. And even he referred to them as “back-of-the-envelope estimates.”
But we’ve already seen 10 million jobs lost in two weeks, So that projection may not be as fanciful as it appeared when it was first published. And if COVID-19 gets that sort of grip on the American economy (and presumably something similar globally), we could be looking at a transformed world.
Closing help …
Closing on a real estate transaction is hard enough without the extra obstacles erected by social distancing and lockdowns. So some are trying to dismantle the biggest barriers.
Legislators are currently working on a law that could further facilitate remote, electronic signing of closing documents. That’s generally already legal under the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (E-Sign) and various state laws. But a new bipartisan bill is intended to make it easier and more commonplace.
And Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and probably others are being less strict about some aspects of verification. So, perhaps, your employer, working from home without access to paper files, may be able to certify your employment by email rather than provide documentary evidence.
Meanwhile, those wanting Fannie, Freddie, FHA and VA loans may find laxer appraisal procedures. All those organizations (and maybe others) are extending their acceptance of exterior-only or “drive-by” appraisals — and even wholly remote ones based on desktop research of the home and local property market.
… But a big issue for closings
But another obstacle may prove more difficult to surmount. Many county recording offices have been closed.
And, without access to the title searches and deed filings those provide, some purchases and refinancings may stall. The industry is working to overcome this obstacle. But its response is patchy, as legal website JD Supra reports:
Title insurance companies have issued underwriting bulletins confirming they will provide title insurance coverage for transactions that occur when recording offices will not accept documents for recording. Each title company has its own requirements and limitations, so it is important to confirm those requirements on a closing-by-closing basis.
An economist writes …
On March 16, realtor.com® Chief Economist Danielle Hale thought lower rates were coming. “That [Fed buying of MBSs] should stabilize rates and bring them back down lower,” she said on her employer’s website. “They’ll [likely] go back to the low 3% [range]. Might we see rates below 3%? I wouldn’t rule it out.”
Those still aren’t unreasonable predictions. However, they’re not universally shared so you shouldn’t rely on them. Last week, the Mortgage Bankers Association’s team of economists forecast that the rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage would average 3.6% between now and the start of October — a higher rate than they were forecasting in March.
Virus still the biggest factor for mortgage rates
COVID-19 stands for COronaVIrus Disease 2019 and refers to the disease. SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) is the name of the virus itself. But, whatever you call it, it’s certainly been behind the chaos seen in global markets since Feb. 20. Gosh, a lot can happen in less than seven weeks.
The virus now has a confirmed presence on five continents (none in Antarctica) and in 209 countries and territories. Overnight figures show COVID-19 has been confirmed in 1,363,123 (up from 1,288,080 yesterday) cases around the world, and has killed 76,383 (up from yesterday’s 70,567).
Here at home, the US has 368,174 cases, up from 336,906 yesterday. It ranks No. 1 on a list of countries with the most infections. And now more than one-in-four of those who have or have had the disease live in America, in spite of our being home to fewer than one-in-20 of the global population.
And, with 10,966, we are third for COVID-19-related deaths, although considerably lower on a per capita basis. But we’re at an earlier stage of infection than those with higher numbers. So the prospects are grim.
COVID-19 hitting biggest economies hard
Of the world’s top-10 economies, eight now count their infections in the tens of thousands or, in the case of America, Italy and Germany (Spain has the 13th biggest GDP), more than 100,000. The other two have infections in the thousands.
With the exception of Iran and Turkey, the worst-hit nations are major economies. That’s probably because those are so interconnected and so many people routinely move between them for business or pleasure.
But an even bigger human tragedy may emerge later in less developed countries, many of which lack medical resources and expertise while having some densely packed slums in which isolation and social distancing are next to impossible.
While markets are made up of people who share the fear and empathy of the rest of humanity, their focus isn’t directly on COVID-19’s health implications. Their concern when trading is the virus’s economic consequences, which are a byproduct of the medical ones.
Domestic economic worries
Yesterday, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon published his latest letter to shareholders. These pronouncements are taken seriously on Wall Street, where they’re effectively required reading.
Mr. Dimon wrote that he expected COVID-19 to bring a “bad recession.” And he went on to predict that would be “combined with some kind of financial stress similar to the global financial crisis of 2008.”
Also yesterday, former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen told CNBC, “This is a huge, unprecedented, devastating hit.” She went on to express her opinion that US unemployment is already running at 12% or 13%.
The American people know
This is beginning to be more widely understood by the American people. The Pew Research Center has recently been tracking how they feel. When polled during March 10-16, 70% perceived COVID-19 as a threat to the American economy and 34% saw it as a threat to their own finances. But when asked again between March 19 and 24, those numbers had risen to 88% and 49% respectively.
And, among respondents who gave an answer, 17% expected a depression, 48% a recession and 34% an economic slowdown.
Meanwhile, a new American poll from the Peter G Peterson Foundation was published this morning. In it, 73% of respondents reported that their income had already been hit, while 24% said their cut affected them “very significantly.”
Central banks face problems
Traditionally, central banks intervene during troubled times to prop up their economies. And they mostly have in response to COVID-19. But markets have often reacted badly to those interventions.
And, with much of their armory already depleted, some are wondering how much more they can do. “Whatever it takes” is a better slogan than plan.
However, toward the end of March, Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell took to the airwaves to assure investors that his organization will “never run out of ammunition.” And that statistic mentioned above, that the Fed’s recently been buying assets at a rate of $1 million a second, suggests he’s prepared to put his money where his mouth is.
Economic reports this week
Domestic economic reports continue to struggle to cut through the COVID-19 gloom. True, you might be justifiably surprised that markets seemed to shrug off the grotesquely high number of new claims for unemployment insurance seen each Thursday over the last two weeks (10 million over 14 days).
But you can see why they ignore most other figures. Who cares what happened to job openings in February (out Tuesday) when everyone knows that the employment landscape today has been unrecognizably transformed since then?
So don’t expect more than one report this week to spark the smallest interest among investors. And that’s Thursday’s consumer sentiment index. That’s an April reading of how Americans are feeling, so it’s as current as possible and relevant to future markets. But even that will likely have an effect only if its numbers deliver a big surprise.
More normally, 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 important, domestic economic reports comprises:
- Monday: Nothing
- Tuesday: February job openings (actual 6.9 million; no forecast; 7.0 million in January)
- Wednesday: FOMC minutes*
- Thursday: weekly jobless claims (forecast 6.0 million), April consumer sentiment index (forecast 70.0 index points) and March producer price index (forecast -0.4%)
- Friday: March consumer price index (forecast -0.4%) and core CPI** (forecast +0.1%)
* FOMC is the Federal Open Market Committee. It’s the Federal Reserve body that determines that organization’s interest rates. So investors usually study the minutes of each meeting closely. But we don’t know what to expect this time round: there was no meeting but presumably a conference call before an emergency rate cut.
**Core CPI is the consumer price index with energy and food prices stripped out — on the grounds their volatility disguises underlying trends.
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? Well, COVID-19 has already eaten up a lot of gains, though markets have recently been alternately recovering and losing ground.
When Reuters polled economists over April 1-3, it found the mood among respondents more somber than the previous month:
The U.S. economy is now predicted to contract by an annualized rate of 2.5% in the quarter just ended and a further 20.0% this quarter, marking a recession. Three weeks ago, predictions were for 0.7% growth in Q1 and a much milder contraction of 5.0% in the current quarter.
Those respondents were divided over how long it would take before the economy begins to recover. But quite a few were expecting that soon, with the median forecast for 2020 gross domestic product across the year now a 2.0% contraction followed by a recovery next year.
Presumably, the speed of any recovery will be determined as much medical science as much as economics.
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.
Lower mortgage rates ahead?
Around New Year, it wasn’t hard to find experts who were predicting that mortgage rates could plumb new depths in 2020. And it looks as if they might turn out to be right — though it’s so far unclear how long uberlow rates will last.
However, few of them predicted that a viral pandemic would be the cause of plunging rates. So their kudos is limited.
And we’re yet to see how COVID-19 will play out. What we do know is that mortgage rates have recently not been tracking yields on 10-year Treasurys as closely they usually do. And that without the Fed’s intervention, they’d probably be much higher.
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. The MBA’s figures were published in April and Fannie’s in March, and both those are thus more able to recognize the emerging effects of the coronavirus. But Freddie’s latest forecast came out in December (it’s chosen to update them quarterly — or quarterly-ish, it seems) and so may be the least reliable:
Interestingly, in its April 2 forecast, the MBA showed higher rates than in its March publication. If you’re waiting for even cheaper mortgages, you might see that as a red flag. Still, all forecasts show lower rates this year than last, when that particular one averaged 3.9%, according to Freddie Mac.
Negative mortgage rates
Just don’t expect zero or negative mortgage rates in America anytime soon. Still, they’re not unthinkable later this year or next, especially if the effects of COVID-19 force the Fed to make its rates negative. But we’ve a long way to go before that becomes a realistic prospect.
However, such negative mortgage rates already exist elsewhere in the world. Denmark’s Jyske Bank was last year 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.
Although the White House remains proud of that deal, critics are less sure. They point to weaknesses that can’t be resolved until a phase-two deal. And one of those is unlikely until 2021.
More importantly, the impact of COVID-19 is making trade disputes look like a sideshow. Indeed, as countries scramble to prop up global trade, they may be effectively abandoned and become irrelevances.
Rate lock recommendation
We suggest that you lock if you’re less than 30 days from closing. But we’re looking at a personal judgment on a risk assessment here: Do the dangers outweigh the possible rewards?
Right now, we’re keeping that advice under constant review. The impacts of COVID-19 and the Fed’s quantitative easing just might drag those rates lower — possibly to new lows — sooner than currently seems likely. But, after recent dramatic rises, that’s far from certain. And, amid the current turmoil, it may not happen at all.
However, none of this means we generally 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 are at or near record lows 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. Make sure your lender is ready to act as soon as you push the button. And continue to watch key markets and news cycles closely. In particular, look out for stories that might affect the performance of the American economy, most especially those that concern the coronavirus. 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.Verify your new rate (Jun 2nd, 2020)
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.