Federal Reserve Shocker! What It Means For Housing
The Federal Reserve has announced it will be shrinking its balance sheet. During the last housing meltdown in 2008, it bought the underwater assets of big banks. It has more than two trillion dollars in mortgage-backed securities that are now worth something because of the latest housing boom. Gregory Mannarino of TradersChoice.net says the Fed is signaling a market top in housing. It pumped up the mortgage-backed securities it bought by inflating another housing bubble. Now, the Fed is going to dump the securities on the market. Mannarino predicts housing prices will fall and interest rates will rise.
It appears, the worse the economy was doing, the higher the odds of a rate hike.
Putting the Federal Reserve’s third rate hike in 11 years into context, if the Atlanta Fed’s forecast is accurate, 0.9% GDP would mark the weakest quarter since 1980 in which rates were raised (according to Bloomberg data).
We look forward to Ms. Yellen explaining her reasoning – Inflation no longer “transitory”? Asset prices in a bubble? Because we want to crush Trump’s economic policies? Because the banks told us to?
For now it appears what matters to The Fed is not ‘hard’ real economic data but ‘soft’ survey and confidence data…
◆ Fed holds $1.75 Trillion of MBS from quantitative easing program ◆
◆ Comments spur talk Fed may start draw down as soon as this year
Almost a decade after it all began, the Federal Reserve is finally talking about unwinding its grand experiment in monetary policy.
And when it happens, the knock-on effects in the bond market could pose a threat to the U.S. housing recovery.
Just how big is hard to quantify. But over the past month, a number of Fed officials have openly discussed the need for the central bank to reduce its bond holdings, which it amassed as part of its unprecedented quantitative easing during and after the financial crisis. The talk has prompted some on Wall Street to suggest the Fed will start its drawdown as soon as this year, which has refocused attention on its $1.75 trillion stash of mortgage-backed securities.
While the Fed also owns Treasuries as part of its $4.45 trillion of assets, its MBS holdings have long been a contentious issue, with some lawmakers criticizing the investments as beyond what’s needed to achieve the central bank’s mandate. Yet because the Fed is now the biggest source of demand for U.S. government-backed mortgage debt and owns a third of the market, any move is likely to boost costs for home buyers.
In the past year alone, the Fed bought $387 billion of mortgage bonds just to maintain its holdings. Getting out of the bond-buying business as the economy strengthens could help lift 30-year mortgage rates past 6 percent within three years, according to Moody’s Analytics Inc.
Unwinding QE “will be a massive and long-lasting hit” for the mortgage market, said Michael Cloherty, the head of U.S. interest-rate strategy at RBC Capital Markets. He expects the Fed to start paring its investments in the fourth quarter and ultimately dispose of all its MBS holdings.
Unlike Treasuries, the Fed rarely owned mortgage-backed securities before the financial crisis. Over the years, its purchases have been key in getting the housing market back on its feet. Along with near-zero interest rates, the demand from the Fed reduced the cost of mortgage debt relative to Treasuries and encouraged banks to extend more loans to consumers.
In a roughly two-year span that ended in 2014, the Fed increased its MBS holdings by about $1 trillion, which it has maintained by reinvesting its maturing debt. Since then, 30-year bonds composed of Fannie Mae-backed mortgages have only been about a percentage point higher than the average yield for five- and 10-year Treasuries, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That’s less than the spread during housing boom in 2005 and 2006.
Talk of the Fed pulling back from the market has bond dealers anticipating that spreads will widen. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. sees the gap increasing 0.1 percentage point this year, while strategists from JPMorgan Chase & Co. say that once the Fed actually starts to slow its MBS reinvestments, the spread would widen at least 0.2 to 0.25 percentage points.
“The biggest buyer is leaving the market, so there will be less demand for MBS,” said Marty Young, fixed-income analyst at Goldman Sachs. The firm forecasts the central bank will start reducing its holdings in 2018. That’s in line with a majority of bond dealers in the New York Fed’s December survey.
The Fed, for its part, has said it will keep reinvesting until its tightening cycle is “well underway,” according to language that has appeared in every policy statement since December 2015. The range for its target rate currently stands at 0.5 percent to 0.75 percent.
Mortgage rates have started to rise as the Fed moves to increase short-term borrowing costs. Rates for 30-year home loans surged to an almost three-year high of 4.32 percent in December. While rates have edged lower since, they’ve jumped more than three-quarters of a percentage point in just four months.
The surge in mortgage rates is already putting a dent in housing demand. Sales of previously owned homes declined more than forecast in December, even as full-year figures were the strongest in a decade, according to data from the National Association of Realtors.
People are starting to ask the question, “Gee, did I miss my opportunity here to get a low-rate mortgage?” said Tim Steffen, a financial planner at Robert W. Baird & Co. in Milwaukee. “I tell them that rates are still pretty low. But are rates going to go up? It certainly seems like they are.”
Part of it, of course, has to do with the Fed simply raising interest rates as inflation perks up. Officials have long wanted to get benchmark borrowing costs off rock-bottom levels (another legacy of crisis-era policies) and back to levels more consist with a healthy economy. This year, the Fed has penciled in three additional quarter-point rate increases.
The move to taper its investments has the potential to cause further tightening. Morgan Stanley estimates that a $325 billion reduction in the Fed’s MBS holdings from April 2018 through end of 2019 may have the same impact as nearly two additional rate increases.
Finding other sources of demand won’t be easy either. Because of the Fed’s outsize role in the MBS market since the crisis, the vast majority of transactions are done by just a handful of dealers. What’s more, it’s not clear whether investors like foreign central banks and commercial banks can absorb all the extra supply — at least without wider spreads.
On the plus side, getting MBS back into the hands of private investors could help make the market more robust by increasing trading. Average daily volume has plunged more than 40 percent since the crisis, Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association data show.
“Ending reinvestment will mean there are more bonds for the private sector to buy,” said Daniel Hyman, the co-head of the agency-mortgage portfolio management team at Pacific Investment Management Co.
What’s more, it may give the central bank more flexibility to tighten policy, especially if President Donald Trump’s spending plans stir more economic growth and inflation. St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said last month that he’d prefer to use the central bank’s holdings to do some of the lifting, echoing remarks by his Boston colleague Eric Rosengren.
Nevertheless, the consequences for the U.S. housing market can’t be ignored.
The “Fed has already hiked twice and the market is expecting” more, said Munish Gupta, a manager at Nara Capital, a new hedge fund being started by star mortgage trader Charles Smart. “Tapering is the next logical step.”
Now that Donald Trump has won the election, the Federal Reserve has decided now would be a great time to start raising interest rates and slowing down the economy. Over the past several decades, the U.S. economy has always slowed down whenever interest rates have been raised significantly, and on Wednesday the Federal Open Market Committee unanimously voted to raise rates by a quarter point. Stocks immediately started falling, and by the end of the session it was their worst day since October 11th.
The funny thing is that the Federal Reserve could have been raising rates all throughout 2016, but they held off because they didn’t want to hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the election.
And during Barack Obama’s eight years, there has only been one rate increase the entire time up until this point.
But now that Donald Trump is headed for the White House, the Federal Reserve has decided that now would be a wonderful time to raise interest rates. In addition to the rate hike on Wednesday, the Fed also announced that it is anticipating that rates will be raised three more times each year through the end of 2019…
Fed policymakers are also forecasting three rate increases in 2017, up from two in September, and maintained their projection of three hikes each in 2018 and 2019, according to median estimates. They predict the fed funds rate will be 1.4% at the end of 2017, 2.1% at the end of 2018 and 2.9% at the end of 2019, up from forecasts of 1.1%, Federa1.9% and 2.6%, respectively, in September. Its long-run rate is expected to be 3%, up slightly from 2.9% previously. The Fed reiterated rate increases will be “gradual.”
So Barack Obama got to enjoy the benefit of having interest rates slammed to the floor throughout his presidency, and now Donald Trump is going to have to fight against the economic drag that constant interest rate hikes will cause.
How is that fair?
As rates rise, ordinary Americans are going to find that mortgage payments are going to go up, car payments are going to go up and credit card bills are going to become much more painful. The following comes from CNN…
Higher interest rates affect millions of Americans, especially if you have a credit card or savings account, or want to buy a home or a car. American savers have earned next to nothing at the bank for years. Now they could be a step closer to earning a little more interest on savings account deposits, even though one rate hike won’t change things overnight.
Rates on car loans and mortgages are also likely to be affected. Those are much more closely tied to the interest on a 10-year U.S. Treasury bond, which has risen rapidly since the election. With a Fed hike coming at a time when interest on the 10-year note is also rising, that won’t help borrowers.
The higher interest rates go, the more painful it will be for the economy.
If you recall, rising rates helped precipitate the financial crisis of 2008. When interest rates rose it slammed people with adjustable rate mortgages, and suddenly Americans could not afford to buy homes at the same pace they were before. We have already been watching the early stages of another housing crash start to erupt all over the nation, and rising rates will certainly not help matters.
But why does the Federal Reserve set our interest rates anyway?
We are supposed to be a free market capitalist economy. So why not let the free market set interest rates?
Many Americans are expecting an economic miracle out of Trump, but the truth is that the Federal Reserve has far more power over the economy than anyone else does. Trump can try to reduce taxes and tinker with regulations, but the Fed could end up destroying his entire economic program by constantly raising interest rates.
One way that Trump can start exerting influence over the Fed is by nominating the right people to the Federal Open Market Committee. According to CNN, it looks like Trump will have the opportunity to appoint four people to that committee within his first 18 months…
Two spots on the Fed’s committee are currently open for Trump to nominate. Looking ahead, Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s term ends in January 2018, while Vice Chair Stanley Fischer is up for re-nomination in June 2018.
Within the first 18 months of his presidency, Trump could reappoint four of the 12 people on the Fed’s powerful committee — an unusual amount of influence for any president.
By endlessly manipulating the economy, the Fed has played a major role in creating economic booms and busts. Since the Fed was created in 1913, there have been 18 distinct recessions or depressions, and now the Fed is setting the stage for another one.
And anyone that tries to claim that the Fed is not political is only fooling themselves. Everyone knew that they were not going to raise rates during the months leading up to the election, and it was quite clear that this was going to benefit Hillary Clinton.
But now that Donald Trump has won the election, the Fed all of a sudden has decided that the time is perfect to begin a program of consistently raising rates.
If I was Donald Trump, I would be looking to shut down the Federal Reserve as quickly as I could. The essential functions that the Fed performs could be performed by the Treasury Department, and we would be much better off if the free market determined interest rates instead of some bureaucrats.
Unfortunately, most Americans have come to accept that it is “normal” to have a bunch of unelected, unaccountable central planners running our economic system, and so it is unlikely that we will see any major changes before our economy plunges into yet another Fed-created crisis.
Net issuance seen rising after steady declines since 2009
Fed seen adding to supply as Treasury ramps up debt sales
Negative yields. Political risk. The Fed. Now add the U.S. deficit to the list of worries to keep beleaguered bond investors up at night.
Since peaking at $1.4 trillion in 2009, the budget deficit has plunged amid government spending cuts and a rebound in tax receipts. But now, America’s borrowing needs are rising once again as a lackluster economy slows revenue growth to a six-year low, data compiled by FTN Financial show. That in turn will pressure the U.S. to sell more Treasuries to bridge the funding gap.
No one predicts an immediate jump in issuance, or a surge in bond yields. But just about everyone agrees that without drastic changes to America’s finances, the government will have to ramp up its borrowing in a big way in the years to come. After a $96 billion increase in the deficit this fiscal year, the U.S. will go deeper and deeper into the red to pay for Social Security and Medicare, projections from the Congressional Budget Office show. The public debt burden could swell by almost $10 trillion in the coming decade as a result.
All the extra supply may ultimately push up Treasury yields and expose holders to losses. And it may come when the Federal Reserve starts to unwind its own holdings — the biggest source of demand since the financial crisis.
“It’s looking like we are at the end of the line,” when it comes to declining issuance of debt that matures in more than a year, said Michael Cloherty, head of U.S. interest-rate strategy at RBC Capital Markets, one of 23 dealers that bid at Treasury debt auctions. “We have deficits that are going to run higher, and at some point, a Fed that will start allowing its Treasury securities to mature.”
After the U.S. borrowed heavily in the wake of the financial crisis to bail out the banks and revive the economy, net issuance of Treasuries has steadily declined as budget shortfalls narrowed. In the year that ended September, the government sold $560 billion of Treasuries on a net basis, the least since 2007, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
Coupled with increased buying from the Fed, foreign central banks and investors seeking low-risk assets, yields on Treasuries have tumbled even as the overall size of the market ballooned to $13.4 trillion. For the 10-year note, yields hit a record 1.318 percent this month. They were 1.57 percent today. Before the crisis erupted, investors demanded more than 4 percent.
One reason the U.S. may ultimately have to boost borrowing is paltry revenue growth, said Jim Vogel, FTN’s head of interest-rate strategy.
With the economy forecast to grow only about 2 percent a year for the foreseeable future as Americans save more and spend less, there just won’t enough tax revenue to cover the burgeoning costs of programs for the elderly and poor. Those funding issues will ultimately supersede worries about Fed policy, regardless of who ends up in the White House come January.
As a percentage of the gross domestic product, revenue will remain flat in the coming decade as spending rises, CBO forecasts show. That will increase the deficit from 2.9 percent this fiscal year to almost 5 percent by 2026.
“As the Fed recedes a little bit into the background, all of these other questions need to start coming back into the foreground,” Vogel said.
The potential for a glut in Treasuries is emerging as some measures show buyers aren’t giving themselves any margin of safety. A valuation tool called the term premium stands at minus 0.56 percentage point for 10-year notes. As the name implies, the term premium should normally be positive and has been for almost all of the past 50 years. But in 2016, it’s turned into a discount.
Some of the highest-profile players are already sounding the alarm. Jeffrey Gundlach, who oversees more than $100 billion at DoubleLine Capital, warned of a “mass psychosis” among investors piling into debt securities with ultra-low yields. Bill Gross of Janus Capital Group Inc. compared the sky-high prices in the global bond market to a “supernova that will explode one day.”
Despite the increase in supply, things like the gloomy outlook for global growth, an aging U.S. society and more than $9 trillion of negative-yielding bonds will conspire to keep Treasuries in demand, says Jeffrey Rosenberg, BlackRock Inc.’s chief investment strategist for fixed income.
What’s more, the Treasury is likely to fund much of the deficit in the immediate future by boosting sales of T-bills, which mature in a year or less, rather than longer-term debt like notes or bonds.
“We don’t have any other choice — if we’re going to increase the budget deficits, they have to be funded” with more debt, Rosenberg said. But, “in today’s environment, you’re seeing the potential for higher supply in an environment that is profoundly lacking supply of risk-free assets.”
Deutsche Bank AG also says the long-term fiscal outlook hinges more on who controls Congress. And if the Republicans, who hold both the House and Senate, retain control in November, it’s more likely future deficits will come in lower than forecast, based on the firm’s historical analysis.
FED HOLDINGS OF TREASURIES COMING DUE
2016 ────────────── $216 BILLION
2017 ────────────── $197 BILLION
2018 ────────────── $410 BILLION
2019 ────────────── $338 BILLION
However things turn out this election year, what the Fed does with its $2.46 trillion of Treasuries may ultimately prove to be most important of all for investors. Since the Fed ended quantitative easing in 2014, the central bank has maintained its holdings by reinvesting the money from maturing debt into Treasuries. The Fed will plow back about $216 billion this year and reinvest $197 billion in the next, based on current policy.
While the Fed has said it will look to reduce its holdings eventually by scaling back re-investments when bonds come due, it hasn’t announced any timetable for doing so.
“It’s the elephant in the room,” said Dov Zigler, a financial markets economist at Bank of Nova Scotia. “What will the Fed’s role be and how large will its participation be in the Treasury market next year and the year after?”
One conundrum stumping investors in recent months has been how, with investors pulling money out of equity funds (at last check for 17 consecutive weeks) at a pace that suggests a full-on flight to safety, as can be seen in the chart below which shows record fund outflows in the first half of the year – the fastest pace of withdrawals for any first half on record…
… are these same markets trading at all time highs? We now have the answer.
Recall at the end of January when global markets were keeling over, that Citi’s Matt King showed that despite aggressive attempts by the ECB and BOJ to inject constant central bank liquidity into the gunfible global markets, it was the EM drain via reserve liquidations, that was causing a shock to the system, as net liquidity was being withdrawn, and in the process stocks were sliding.
Fast forward six months when Matt King reports that “many clients have been asking for an update of our usual central bank liquidity metrics.”
What the update reveals is “a surge in net global central bank asset purchases to their highest since 2013.”
And just like that the mystery of who has been buying stocks as everyone else has been selling has been revealed.
But wait, there’s more because as King suggests “credit and equities should rally even more strongly than they have done already.”
More observations from King:
The underlying drivers are an acceleration in the pace of ECB and BoJ purchases, coupled with a reversal in the previous decline of EMFX reserves. Other indicators also point to the potential for a further squeeze in global risk assets: a broadening out of mutual fund inflows from IG to HY, EM and equities; the second lowest level of positions in our credit survey (after February) since 2008; and prospects of further stimulus from the BoE and perhaps the BoJ.
While we remain deeply skeptical of the durability of such a policy-induced rally, unless there is a follow-through in terms of fundamentals, and in credit had already started to emphasize relative value over absolute, we suspect those with bearish longer-term inclinations may nevertheless feel now is not the time to position for them.
And some words of consolation for those who find themselves once again fighting not just the Fed but all central banks:
The problems investors face are those we have referred to many times: markets being driven more by momentum than by value, and most negatives being extremely long-term in nature (the need for deleveraging; political trends towards deglobalization; a steady erosion of confidence in central banks). Against these, the combination of UK political fudge (and perhaps Italian tiramisu), a lack of near-term catalysts, and overwhelming central bank liquidity risks proving overwhelming – albeit only temporarily.
Why have central banks now completely turned their backs on the long-run just to provide some further near-term comfort? Simple: as Keynes said, in the long-run we are all dead.