Speaking before Congress this week, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said that a rate hike is a "live possibility” next month, if the economy advances as Fed officials expect. Fed officials meet again on Dec. 16.   

A couple questions: What's a “live possibility” as opposed to a dead possibility? What are Fed officials' expectations for the economy? It's all a black box really; something for them to know and for us to find out later. As is so often the case, Fed officials rarely enlighten when they try to explain. 

What do the traders think? They seem to have bought into Yellen's rhetoric, as equivocating as that rhetoric might be. Traders in federal funds rate future contracts are pricing these contracts with a 60% probability the Fed will raise interest rates next month.  A week ago, the probability was at 30%.  

So is it likely the Fed will raise the fed funds rate for the first time in over nine years? More important, is it likely mortgage rates are going to rise, and keep rising? 

We'll stick to our guns: We've been saying since January that a fed funds rate was unlikely in 2015. That said, the next time around is the last chance for us to be proven wrong. Fed officials might do something just for appearances. After all, they've been leading the market on for the entire year. A rate increase has always been just around the corner. Sometimes you do something just to save face. 

Mortgage rates appear to be pricing in the potential for an increase. For most of last week, rates held steady, and even drifted slightly lower. This week has produced a noticeable move higher. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is near a 30-day high. Despite the rise, the 30-year loan is still regularly quoted below 4%. That could change over the next month, or even the next week. To err on the side of caution, more lenders could continue to price in a rate increase. 

That said, we don't see rates continually ratcheting higher, even if the Fed does raise the fed funds rate. For one, the increase will be no more than 25 basis points. What's more, 2016 is an election year. Fed officials are reluctant to raise rates when the two major political parties go to battle. The Fed wants to remain as politically neutral as possible. Therefore, whatever occurs on Dec. 16 could very well hold over the ensuing 12 months. 

The impetus is for mortgage rates to move higher over the next 30 days, but we don't think they will move egregiously higher. However high rates rise, Dec. 16will likely be the high-water mark. After Dec. 16, we could see rates drift lower again.

Information provided by Jessica Regan.

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