Last Week in Review
There's no time like the present, so the famous saying goes. And that's certainly true when it comes to the good inflation news we saw last week. But, remember, things with inflation could change in the future as the economy continues to try to climb out of the recession...which could have a negative impact on Bonds and home loan rates. Here's what you need to know.
The Consumer Price Index (CPI) for July was unchanged, and, as you can see in the chart below, the year-over-year CPI fell 2.1%, the largest 12-month decline since 1950.
There was also good news on inflation last week from the Labor Department. Worker Productivity came in better than expected, rising at its fastest pace in 6 years, as companies cut costs and try to maximize output from their current workforce. This efficiency helps curb inflation, which is good for Bonds and home loan rates.
So how does this news tie in with the economy overall? For one thing, consider last week's Retail Sales Report, which showed that Retail Sales dropped in July by 0.1%, well below the 0.8% gain that was expected. This report negated the better than expected Wal-Mart second quarter earnings report and signals that consumers are still saving more than spending.
Although low consumer spending may seem like a bad thing, it is actually not such bad news in terms of inflation because of a little known (and rarely discussed) but critical facet of the economy called the velocity of money.
The velocity of money concept is simple. It goes like this: when you buy a pair of shoes, the owner of the shoe store takes that profit and buys a big screen TV, then the TV store owner buys something else, etc. The same dollar passes through the economy over and over again, triggering growth, jobs and, ultimately, inflation. The latest Retail Sales Report tells us that the velocity of money effect has been stagnant...that shoe store owner is not running out to buy a big screen TV with the profits. Once consumer spending begins to increase and the velocity of money increases, inflation is likely to follow. This will be something to look for as the economy continues to stabilize.
Something else to look for is the approaching end of the Fed's Bond purchase program. Home loan rates have stayed historically low since the program began in January. So, this is another variable that could push Bonds down and home loan rates up in the future.
Bonds and rates did manage to end last week better than where they began, but there was a great deal of volatility along the way. Give me a call if you want to look at your situation and see if now is the time for you to act.
LAST WEEK MARKED MORE TREASURY PURCHASES AND ANOTHER RATE AND POLICY DECISION FROM THE FED. CHECK OUT THIS WEEK'S MORTGAGE MARKET VIEW TO LEARN EVEN MORE ABOUT WHAT THE FED DOES.
Forecast for the Week
While there will be a break in the Fed Treasury auctions this week, there will still be plenty of news that could affect the markets. Tuesday will bring more inflation news in the form of the Producer Price Index (PPI), which provides information about wholesale level price changes. We'll also get a read on the housing market with Tuesday's Housing Starts and Building Permits Report as well as Friday's Existing Home Sales Report.
Thursday brings both the Philadelphia Fed Report, which is one of the most-watched manufacturing reports overall, as well as the Initial Jobless Claims Report. We have seen three weeks of readings under 600,000 claims after 22 consecutive weeks of readings over that level. However, it may be that those numbers have dropped as a result of Claims benefits expiring, rather than people finding employment.
Remember: Weak economic news normally causes money to flow out of Stocks and into Bonds, helping Bonds and home loan rates improve, while strong economic news normally has the opposite result. As you can see in the chart below, Bonds and home loan rates were helped last week by tame inflation readings and a strong demand for Treasuries. I will be watching closely to see what this week brings.
Chart: Fannie Mae 4.5% Mortgage Bond (Friday Aug 14, 2009)
The Mortgage Market View...
What the Fed Does
The Fed provides banking services to America's banks and to Uncle Sam. That's the nitty-gritty part of its job. On the more glamorous side, it also develops and implements the nation's monetary policy--and in the process influences interest rates.
Mighty Money Supplier
The media often suggest that the Fed "sets" interest rates--as if the Fed chairman just says "let the rate be 4 percent" and the nation's banks make it so. But that's not how it works. Banks determine interest rates based on all sorts of factors, from recipients' credit histories, to the current money supply, to how low their competitors are willing to go.
The Fed has no control over many of these factors, but it can influence the money supply--in three ways. First, it loans money directly to banks, though only on a limited scale. Second, it occasionally changes how much money banks must keep on reserve. Third, and most important, the Fed uses what it calls "open market operations" to move money into and out of the banking system.
We're Banking on You
To get an idea how the Fed's open market operations work, imagine you're the manager of Knowledge News National Bank (it's OK, we trust you). Your job is to make as much money as you can for the bank, and one of the ways you do that is by making loans, on which the bank earns interest.
The Fed requires KNB (and all banks) to keep a certain percentage of customer deposits in reserve at all times. As KNB's manager, you use deposits to make loans. But you must also maintain the required reserves--and you never know how much money customers will deposit or withdraw each day. When you're short on reserves at the end of the day, you must find a way to cover the difference.
Luckily, you know where to go. Other bank managers have extra money on hand, and they want to loan it out to earn interest. It's a perfect match. All you have to do is agree on an interest rate. If lots of banks have money to loan and not many are shopping for it, supply and demand dictates that rates will go down. On the other hand, if lots of banks want to borrow money and not many have it, rates will go up.
Smooth Open Market Operator
Recognizing this, the Fed influences interest rates by buying and selling securities on the open market. If it wants rates to go up, it starts selling lots of securities. The buyers of those securities pay the Fed millions, even billions, of dollars. That money comes right out of the buyers' bank accounts, reducing the amount of reserves in the banking system. Money gets "tight," and the rate banks charge each other for overnight loans--the "federal funds rate"-goes up.
The same supply-and-demand rules apply in reverse. When the Fed buys securities, it pays millions, even billions, of dollars into the sellers' bank accounts, increasing the amount of reserves in the banking system. With more money out there to loan, the federal funds rate goes down.
Over time, changes in the federal funds rate lead to changes in short-term interest rates, followed by changes in long-term interest rates. When the Fed nudges those rates down, it's hoping for some good old-fashioned economic stimulation. When it nudges rates up, it's hoping to fight inflation.
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The Week's Economic Indicator Calendar
Remember, as a general rule, weaker than expected economic data is good for rates, while positive data causes rates to rise.
Economic Calendar for the Week of August 17 - August 21
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