The Federal Reserve’s Big Surprise – Buyers Continue to Enjoy Low Rates!

September 23, 2013


The Federal Reserve’s Big Surprise

We should clarify that the “Big Surprise” hit most market watchers and pundits, but not all. Indeed, we weren’t surprised at all.

We’re referring to the Federal Reserve’s decision on tapering – which was not to taper. The Fed has been purchasing $85 billion of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities (MBS) each month for the past year. Most market watchers had expected the Fed to announce it would reduce these purchases by $10-to-$15 billion each month going forward.

The fallout of tapering would have been higher interest rates. With the Fed reducing its demand – mostly of Treasury notes and bonds – interest rates would rise. This is a key reason why interest rates in general, and mortgage rates in particular, have been rising in recent months. Market participants were anticipating tapering and higher interest rates.

But the Fed announced yesterday it wouldn’t taper. It’s reasoning for not tapering corroborated the reasons we’ve given repeatedly: a sluggish economy and anemic job growth.

Fed officials will meet again in late October, and tapering will surely be the lead agenda. Unless the economy and job growth materially improve between now and then, we would expect the Fed to stay the current course.

When the Fed announced there would be no tapering, mortgage rates fell, which is to be expected. According to data from Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.5% for the week ending September 19 – seven basis points lower than the previous week. We expect mortgage rates to fall further in the coming week.

Looking further afield, we see Freddie Mac’s weekly average fluttering between 4.25% and 4.5% going forward. We would be surprised if the average fell much lower, though. We say that because there is still pent-up pressure for rates to rise over the long term.

The point we want to emphasis is that borrowers have been given an opportunity to borrow at a more favorable rate. We recommend not getting greedy. Too often we see borrowers’ propensity to extrapolate a developing trend indefinitely.

It doesn’t work that way. All it takes is one month of unexpectedly strong economic and job growth data, and talk of taper will once again dominate the credit markets. Should that occur, mortgage rates will very likely head for higher ground.

Since the beginning of the year, we’ve been warning on the risk of procrastinating. To be sure, mortgage rates are lower this week than they were last week, but we don’t think they’ll be materially lower next week… or even beyond.

So keep in mind that the long-term imperative is for interest rates to rise, so the risk of procrastinating remains.



Date and Time



S&P Case/Shiller Home Price Index

Tues., Sept. 24,
9:00 am, ET

(Monthly Increase)

Important. Recent home-price data point to a slowdown in monthly and yearly increases.

Mortgage Applications

Wed., Sept. 25,
7:00 am, ET


Important. Purchase and refinance activity will likely pick up on lower lending rates.

New Home Sales

Wed., Sept. 25,
10:00 am, ET

423,000 (Annualized)

Important. Slowing price growth and more discounting should lift sales volume.

Gross Domestic Product
(2nd Quarter 2012)

Thurs., Sept. 26,
8:30 am, ET

2.7% (Annualized Growth)

Important. GDP growth is expected to be revised upward, which points to stronger 3 rd-quarter growth.

Another Buying Opportunity

Financing costs are an obvious factor in the decision to buy a home. With mortgage rates rising over the past six months and home prices rising over the past two years, buying a home had become more of a stretch for more people.

Lower mortgage rates will put more homes within reach. A slowing rate of price appreciation will also contribute to continued affordability. On the latter, the National Association of Realtors reports that in August existing home sales were up a strong 4.4% to 5.48 million units on an annualized basis. Sales were driven by higher inventory, and also by slowing price appreciation. The median price of an existing home actually fell slightly to $212,100.

We’ve reported in recent weeks that we are seeing slowing price appreciation in many markets. But prices are still appreciating, and we expect them to continue to appreciate in most major markets. This is another reason we see risk in procrastinating. Yes, price appreciation is slowly, but prices are still moving higher.

Eventually, rising prices will be coupled with rising lending rates. The home that’s affordable today will be less affordable tomorrow, and even less affordable a couple years down the road.