Monday, September 17, 2007

The FED drops rates, mortgage rates drop, right?

Clients have been asking on a regular basis what effect the Federal Reserve's expected rate cut will have on mortgage rates. Mortgage rates have rallied for the last month for prime borrowers because of the slowdown in the economy and the flight to quality. Investors around the world have made a clear decision and their appetite is only for mortgage loans extended to very well qualified clients in the jumbo mortgage market or FANNIE MAE paper on the conforming side because it has an implied U.S. government guarantee.

Essentially, risk based pricing has returned to the mortgage space. In a small way the Fed's action influences rates around the world. Most nations have a central bank or monetary policy board and react to local/global conditions to set policy. Europe has the European Central Bank whic primarily influences LIBOR which is the index used for almost all corporate lending and found in the majority of adjustable rate mortgage products in this country. If the Fed doesn't cut .50% I would expect mortgage rates to drift higher and the U.S. stock market to take it on the chin. Let's see what happens tomorrow.

How are short- and long-term interest rates different?
The Federal Reserve Board controls the federal funds rate. The Federal Reserve Board (Fed) has the power to raise or lower the federal funds target rate (Fed funds rate), which in turn influences the market for shorter-term securities. The Fed funds rate is the rate banks charge other banks for overnight loans. The Fed may raise the rate to keep inflation in check or lower it to stimulate the economy.
Long-term rates are market driven. Long-term interest rates, as represented by yields of the 10-year or 30-year Treasury bond, tend to move in anticipation of changes in the economy and inflation.

What causes interest rates to rise and fall?
Economic factors influence interest rates. Both short- and long-term interest rates are affected by economic factors such as inflation, the strength of the U.S. dollar and the pace of economic growth.
For example, strong economic growth can lead to inflation. If the Fed becomes concerned about inflation, it may attempt to cool the economy by raising the Fed funds rate, as it did in 2004 and 2005.
On the other hand, if the economy slows down, the Fed may lower the Fed funds rate to stimulate economic growth, as we witnessed in 2001-2003. Similarly, economic factors also affect long-term interest rates. For example, over the summer of 2003 and then again in the spring of 2004, long-term interest rates rose from historic lows as the economy showed signs of strength.
It should be noted that short- and long-term interest rates don't necessarily move in tandem. While short-term rates rose in 2004 and 2005, long-term rates remained relatively low.

Excellent Series of Greenspan Interviews Today.

Fortune magazine has published an excellent interview with Alan Greenspan. I would encourage you to watch the videos. Unfortunately, they can't be embedded. Here is the link: