January 23rd, 2012
This week is quite busy in terms of economic data and other events that are relevant to mortgage rates and is likely to be an active one for mortgage rates. There are five economic releases scheduled for the week in addition to the first Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting of the year that will include a press conference with Chairman Bernanke, two potentially influential Treasury auctions and the President’s State of the Union address. All but one of the five economic reports are considered to be of moderate or high importance, meaning we should see quite a bit of movement in mortgage rates this week.
There is nothing of relevance scheduled for tomorrow or during trading hours Tuesday, thus we can expect the stock markets and any potential news from overseas to drive bond trading and mortgage pricing. If the major stock indexes post strong gains, bonds will probably falter, leading to higher mortgage rates the early part of the week. President Obama will make his State of the Union address at 9:00 PM ET Tuesday evening. Topics and parts of the speech will be leaked prior, which may influence the markets during regular hours the first two days of the week. The biggest reaction to his words will come Wednesday morning.
Wednesday also has no relevant economic data scheduled for release, although it does have this year’s first FOMC meeting results. The meeting will begin Tuesday and adjourn at 12:30 PM ET Wednesday. It is expected to yield no change to short-term interest rates, but as is often the case, traders will be looking for any indication of the Fed’s next move and when they may make it. I believe that there is little chance of indicating a possible rate hike in the near future, but any hints of a change in theories or timetable by the Fed will cause afternoon volatility in the financial and mortgage markets. The meeting will adjourn early instead of the regular 2:15 PM time because it is one of four meetings this year that will be followed by a press conference hosted by Fed Chairman Bernanke.
Thursday morning brings us the release of three of the week’s economic reports. The first is December’s Durable Goods Orders at 8:30 AM ET. This data helps us measure manufacturing strength by tracking new orders at U.S. factories for products that are expected to last three or more years, also known as big-ticket items. The data often is quite volatile from month- to-month, but is currently expected to show an increase in orders of approximately 2.0%. A smaller than expected increase would be considered good news for bonds and mortgage rates, but a slight variance likely will have little impact on Thursday’s mortgage pricing.
Next is December’s New Home Sales report at 10:00 AM ET. It is considered to be the sister release to last week’s Existing Home Sales, giving us a small snapshot of housing sector strength. It tracks a much smaller portion of home sales than last week’s report did and is forecasted to show 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.
The third report of the day is December’s Leading Economic Indicators (LEI) at 10:00 AM ET. The LEI attempts to measure economic activity over the next three to six months. It is considered to be of moderate importance to the bond and mortgage markets. Analysts are currently expecting the Conference Board to post a 0.7% increase, meaning that economic growth over the next few months will likely rise fairly quickly. Generally speaking, this would be bad news for the bond market because a strengthening economy makes long-term securities such as mortgage bonds less attractive to investors.
The remaining two economic reports will be released Friday morning, one of which is arguably the single most important reports that we see regularly. That would be the initial reading of the 4th Quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) early Friday morning. 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. There are three readings to each quarter’s activity, each released approximately one month apart. The first reading, which usually carries the most significance, is expected to be an increase of 3.1%. A noticeably weaker reading would be great news for the bond market, questioning the pace of the economic recovery. That would likely fuel stock selling and a rally in bonds that would push mortgage rates lower Friday morning. However, a stronger than expected reading should fuel bond selling and higher mortgage rates.
The last report of the week is the revised reading to the University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment. This index is a measurement of consumer confidence that is thought to indicate consumer willingness to spend. If confidence is rising, consumers are more apt to make large purchases in the near future. Since consumer spending makes up two thirds of the U.S. economy, any related data is watched closely. I don’t see this data having much of an impact on the markets or mortgage rates due to the importance of the GDP reading.
And if we didn’t have enough to watch already, there are two relatively important Treasury auctions for the markets to digest. The Fed will auction 5-year and 7-year Treasury Notes Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. If they are met with a strong demand from investors, the broader bond market may rally during afternoon hours those days. If the sales draw a lackluster interest, they could lead to bond selling and higher mortgage rates during afternoon hours those days.
Overall, look for Wednesday or Friday to be the biggest days for mortgage rates. Friday’s GDP is the single most important piece of data this week, but we may see quite a bit of movement in rates Wednesday morning and again in the afternoon following the Fed’s time in the spotlight. I would be quite surprised if we did not see a very active week in rates, including intra-day revisions on multiple days. I strongly recommend that constant contact is maintained with your mortgage professional this week if still floating an interest rate.