December 2, 2022

The Zero Sum Game Of Lower Interest Rates And Why Mortgage Rates Will Rise

The Federal Reserve has forced long term interest rates to historic lows in a desperate attempt to “stimulate” both the housing market and the economy in general.  The results have been mixed but the benefits of lower rates to borrowers are undeniable.  Lower rates reduce the cost of large debt burdens carried by many Americans and increases the spending power of those able to refinance.

Exactly how much lower the Fed intends to repress mortgage rates is anyone’s guess but as interest continue to decline, the overall benefits diminish.  Here’s three reasons why the Fed may wind up discovering that the economic benefits of further rate cuts will be muted at best, self defeating at worst.

1.  Lower rates are becoming a zero sum game for the economy as lower rates for borrowers translates into lower income for savers.  Every loan is also an asset of someone else and lower interest rates have merely been a mechanism for transferring wealth from savers to debtors.  Every retiree who prudently saved with the expectation of receiving interest income on their savings have been brutalized by the Fed’s financial repression. Even more infuriating to some savers is the fact that many debtors who took on irresponsible amounts of debt are now actually profiting from various government programs (see Foreclosure Settlement Q&A – A Victory For The Irresponsible).

A significant number of retirees that I know have been forced to drastically curtail their spending in order to make ends meet while others have been forced to draw down their savings.  The increased spending power of borrowers has been negated by the reduced spending power of savers.  This fact seems to elude Professor Bernanke who hasn’t been able to figure out why lower rates have not ignited the economy.

2.  Many consumer who would like to incur more debt are often turned down by the banks since their debt levels are already too high.  Those who can borrow often times chose to deleverage instead, considering the fragile state of the economy.  Anyone saving for a future financial goal (college tuition, home down payment, retirement, etc) is forced to reduce consumption and increase savings due to  near zero interest rates.  The Federal Reserve has destroyed Americans most powerful wealth building technique – the power of compound interest.  A 5% yield on savings will double your money in about 14.4 years while a 1% yield will double your money in 72 years – and that’s before taxes and inflation.

3.  As mortgage rates decline into uncharted territory, the mathematical benefit of lower rates diminishes.  As can be seen in the chart below the absolute dollar amount of monthly savings as well as the percentage decrease in the monthly payment diminish as rates race to zero.

Benefits of a refinance on a $200,000 mortgage diminish as rates decline

% Rate Mo Payment Mo Savings % Reduction Yearly Savings
6.00% $1,199.00
3.00%    $843.00 $356.00 29.70% $4,272.00
1.50%    $690.00 $153.00 18.10% $1,836.00
0.75%    $621.00  $69.00 10.00%    $828.00

Closing costs at lower rates also become problematic, making it impossible to recapture fees within a reasonable period of time.  With closing costs of $8,000 on a $200,000 mortgage refinance, it would take a decade to recoup closing costs.

Many astute analysts have made elaborate and compelling arguments that interest rates can only go lower.  From a contrary point of view, I believe that a future rise in interest rates is a high probability event.  This is the opposite of my prediction in March 2009 when I surmised that mortgage rates would decline to 3.5% – see 30 Year Fixed Rate of 3.5% Likely.

The Chart of the Day has a long term chart of the 10 year treasury and notes that the recent sharp decline in interest rates “has brought the 10-year Treasury bond yield right up against resistance of its 26-year downtrend channel.”

 

Mortgage Rates Surge Upward – Is The Refi Boom Over?

Mortgage Rates Up Sharply Over Past Week

Mortgage rates increased again today as the sell off in the long treasury market continued.  The all time lows in the mid 4% range have quickly disappeared.

A short week ago the best borrower could obtain a par rate of 4.5% – see All Time Low Mortgage Rates.   Today that same borrower  is looking at a rate of 5.25%.    Borrowers who have applied for a refinance and did not lock the rate are in for a payment shock.  On a $250,000 loan, the payment increases by $1368 per year on an increase from 4.5% to 5.25%.  Higher rates and tougher underwriting standards are beginning to stop the mini refinance boom dead in its tracks.

Despite the large recent increase in mortgage rates, keep in mind that the Federal Reserve is determined  to do whatever it takes to bring mortgage rates lower.  Whether or not the Fed will succeed in lowering rates is unknown.

Lower Rates Still Possible

Factors that may ultimately bring mortgage rates to 3.5% or lower include the following (See –  Is 3.5% Possible?)

The Federal Reserve’s direct purchases of mortgage backed securities initiated late last year was successful in its goal of lowering mortgage rates.   The Fed’s direct purchases of MBS has stabilized the mortgage market and lowered rates.  There are arguments being put forth that due to the Fed’s intervention, mortgage rates have artificial price support.  Nonetheless, if the historical yield spread between the bond and the 30 year mortgage is re-established, we may see a 30 year fixed rate in the 3.5% range.  Something to think about for those contemplating a mortgage refinance.

The question of whether the Fed is manipulating mortgage pricing at this point or how long such price support can last is somewhat irrelevant.  The major fact to keep in mind is that the Fed appears to be relentless in its campaign to drive down mortgage rates.   If the Fed can stabilize the MBS market we may be looking at mortgages rates in a range we never thought possible a short time ago.

30 year fixed rate mortgages in the mid 3% range would cause a huge refinance surge.  Keep in mind that over the past five years, homeowners had multiple opportunities to refinance in the low 5% range.  Unless the borrower is taking cash out, it usually does not pay to refinance for less than a one percentage point reduction.   At 3.5% rates, it would make sense for almost every homeowner with a mortgage to refinance again.

If rates do move into the mid 3% range or lower, the benefits will arguably go to those who need it least.  Based on present underwriting standards, those with poor credit, late mortgage payments, no equity or insufficient income need not apply.  The sad irony here is that the Fed’s costly efforts to reduce rates may do little to benefit the economy or the majority of homeowners.  (See All Time Low Mortgage Rates for A++ Borrowers Only)

30 Year Mortgage Rates At 4.5% – Is 3.5% Possible?

How Low Can Mortgage Rates Get?

According to Freddie Mac, the average 30 year fixed rate mortgage dropped for the 10th consecutive week to a new low of 5.01%.   This is the lowest rate reported by Freddie Mac since they began keeping track in 1971.

Rates have moved sharply lower over the past two weeks to all time lows despite the fact that the 10 year treasury bond did not move to new lows.  The traditional rate differential between the 10 year treasury and the 30 year fixed rate mortgage has disappeared due to the mortgage crisis and other factors.   Risk is now priced higher across all credit markets, including mortgage backed securities (MBS).

The Federal Reserve’s direct purchases of mortgage backed securities initiated late last year was successful in its goal of lowering mortgage rates.   The Fed’s direct purchases of MBS has stabilized the mortgage market and lowered rates.  There are arguments being put forth that due to the Fed’s intervention, mortgage rates have artificial price support.  Nonetheless, if the historical yield spread between the bond and the 30 year mortgage is re-established, we may see a 30 year fixed rate in the 3.5% range.  Something to think about for those contemplating a mortgage refinance.

Last week, a borrower with excellent credit, necessary income and home equity was able to obtain a par rate of 4.5%.   The question of whether the Fed is manipulating mortgage pricing at this point or how long such price support can last is somewhat irrelevant.  The major fact to keep in mind is that the Fed appears to be relentless in its campaign to drive down mortgage rates.   If the Fed can stabilize the MBS market we may be looking at mortgages rates in a range we never thought possible a short time ago.

30 year fixed rate mortgages in the mid 3% range would cause a huge refinance surge.  Keep in mind that over the past five years, homeowners had multiple opportunities to refinance in the low 5% range.  Unless the borrower is taking cash out, it usually does not pay to refinance for less than a one percentage point reduction.   At 3.5% rates, it would make sense for almost every homeowner with a mortgage to refinance again.