October 31st, 2011
This week brings us the release of four relevant economic reports for the markets to digest with two of those reports being much more important than the others. In addition to the factual reports, we also have another FOMC meeting to work around this week. This leads me to believe that we will see another active week for mortgage rates.
The first release of the week will come from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), who will post their manufacturing index at 10:00 AM ET Tuesday. This index measures manufacturer sentiment, which is important because it gives us an indication of manufacturing sector strength. It is considered to be one of the more important reports we see each month, partly because it is the first report every month that tracks the preceding month’s activity. Tuesday’s release is expected to show a reading of 52.1, indicating that manufacturer sentiment rose from September’s level. This means more surveyed business executives felt business improved during the month than in September, hinting at manufacturing sector growth. A smaller than expected reading would be good news for bonds and likely lead to lower mortgage rates Tuesday.
This week’s FOMC meeting is a two-day meeting that begins Tuesday and adjourns Wednesday afternoon. There is no possibility of the Fed changing key short-term interest rates this week. But market participants will be looking at the post-meeting statement for any indication of when the Fed may make a move, particularly to help boost economic activity. The meeting will adjourn at 12:30 PM ET Wednesday, so look for any reaction to the statement to come during afternoon hours. The markets will actually be looking for news of another round of debt purchases by the Fed. If they do announce a sizable purchase program of government or mortgage debt Wednesday, we could see the bond market rally and mortgage rates move noticeably lower.
At 2:15 PM ET Wednesday, Fed Chairman Bernanke will host a press conference to answer questions about the Fed’s action (or lack of). These scheduled press conferences are new and just started this year. They are held four times a year, in an effort to keep the public current on the Fed’s thoughts and concerns. Since the minutes to the meetings aren’t released for a couple weeks after the FOMC meetings, these press conferences allow the press to interact directly with the Fed and in a much more timely manner. Therefore, expect the markets to react to his comments and any surprise answers during the Q&A portion.
Thursday has two reports scheduled. The first is the 3rd Quarter Productivity reading at 8:30 AM ET. It is expected to show a 2.8% increase in worker productivity during the third quarter. A larger increase would be good news for the bond market because higher levels of employee productivity allow the economy to expand without inflationary pressures being a concern.
The second report of the day will be September’s Factory Orders data. This report is similar to last week’s Durable Goods Orders release except it includes orders for both durable and non-durable goods. It is expected to show a 0.2% decline in new orders from August’s level. A smaller than forecasted increase would be good news for the bond market and mortgage rates while a larger than expected rise is bad news and could push rates slightly higher Thursday morning since it would indicate economic strength. It is worth noting though, that neither of these reports are considered to be highly important to mortgage rates.
The last report of the week is the most important. Friday brings us the release of one of the most important monthly pieces of economic news- the Employment report. The Labor Department will post October’s employment stats early Friday morning. The report is comprised of many statistics and readings, but the most important ones are the unemployment rate, the number of new jobs added or lost during the month and average hourly earnings. Current forecasts call for no change in the unemployment rate to keep the national unemployment rate at 9.1%, an increase in payrolls of approximately 88,000 and a 0.2% increase in average earnings. Weaker than expected readings should renew concerns about the labor market and rally bonds enough to improve mortgage rates, especially if the stock markets react poorly to the news.
Overall, the single most important day is likely to be Wednesday or Friday but Tuesday’s data is also considered to be highly important. In addition to the economic reports and the FOMC meeting, I believe stocks will continue to experience volatility that will also impact bond trading. The key to the week will be Friday’s employment numbers or the FOMC statement and press conference, but any significant swings in the stock markets may also influence whether mortgage rates close the week higher or lower than this morning’s levels.