Time to Brace Ourselves (Or Maybe Not)

Thanks to Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, there really isn't much to report on the housing and mortgage front. The focus for most of the past week has been on eating and shopping. Therefore, we might as well take another look at the Federal Reserve and its upcoming Dec. 16 meeting. After all, it's only two weeks away.

We again turn to CME Group and its data on trader expectations. As it stands now, traders in federal funds rate futures contracts are pricing a 75% chance the Fed will raise the fed funds rate come Dec. 16. That's the highest odds given for 2015. 

Trader expectations were further buttressed this past week on the words of one Fed official. Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Dennis Lockhart said he favors raising the fed funds rate this month. (The fed funds rate is a base rate for all other rates and hasn't been raised since 2006.) “Absent information that drastically changes the economic picture and outlook, I feel the case for liftoff is compelling,” Lockhart said.

Yes, the language is mealy and equivocating, but Fed officials speak only in equivocating terms (the difference is always a matter of degree). November's employment numbers (released on Friday) will likely be the final arbiter: If November saw 200,000 or more new jobs created, we'd expect to see the odds of a rate increase rise above 80%. We expect to see 200,000 or more new jobs for November.

At this point, though, pretty much everyone has priced in a rate increase. That's the way it's been for the past few weeks. Mortgage rates have held steady, and have even drifted lower.  We've mentioned in the past that it's not the actual event that moves markets; it's the anticipation of the event. Pretty much everyone is done anticipating.

That said, we expect mortgage rates to hold steady over the next week to 10 days. When we get closer to Dec. 16, volatility could pick up. Post-Dec. 16, we wouldn't be surprised to see rates drift higher.  The impetus is for lending institutions to find a way to generate more interest income. A higher fed funds rate helps the cause. 

That means that the rates we have today might be the best rates we see for awhile. If anyone is in the market to refinance or to buy, now is as good a time as any to lock and load. The odds of gaining 10 basis points isn't worth the risk of losing 25 basis points. Better to be pound wise and penny foolish then the reverse.

Information provided by Jessica Regan.

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