In a week in which mortgage markets struggled to find direction, mortgage rates edged higher overall. The weekly increase was the first since mid-November and it may signal higher rates as we head into 2009.

The week’s most talked-about story hit the wires Friday.

According to the government, the U.S. economy shed 533,000 jobs last month and the national Unemployment Rate rose to 6.7%. This was the largest number of jobs lost in any one month since the recession of 1974.

In a normal market, job losses of this magnitude would have caused stock markets and mortgage rates to fall. But stocks and rates didn’t fall Friday. To the contrary, both rose. This is because — while the jobs reports was the most talked-about story last week — it wasn’t the most important one. That story had already been told.

Last Monday — officially — we learned that U.S. economy is in recession.

Although most of Wall Street knew it already, the official determination was an acknowledgement that “bad economic data” is not only acceptable, but normal given the current conditions.

In other words, when the jobs data was released Friday morning, one reason why mortgage rates rose was because markets somewhat shrugged off the data, saying: “Yeah, of course job losses are up — we’re in a recession, after all.”

This is an unfortunate development for rate shoppers because bad data usually anchors mortgage rates lower. Going forward, that won’t likely be the case — at least until the recession is declared to be over.

This week, without much new data being released, markets should trade largely on news of federal intervention and expectations for the U.S. economy. As retail sales figures drip in from the weekend, be wary of stronger-than-expected numbers as that could pull mortgage rates higher. The same goes for Friday’s official Retail Sales data for November.

Either way, expect volatility throughout the week — same as we’ve seen all year long.

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According to the government, American businesses are cutting staff at an accelerated pace, most recently paring 533,000 jobs this past November.

It’s the largest one-month decline since December 1974 and raises the year-to-date job losses to 1.9 million workers.

However, there is a silver lining in the data for all Americans — both employed and unemployed.

With each piece of negative news about the economy, Washington is more likely to pass new stimulus packages to the benefit of household budgets.

On one front, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has already alluded to further Fed Funds Rate cuts at the Fed’s two-day meeting starting December 15. Because the Fed Funds Rate is directly tied to Prime Rate, any cut in the benchmark lending rate would lead “floating” interest rates lower on home equity credit lines and other revolving debt.

And this talk from the Fed comes on the heels of its $500 billion pledge to buy mortgage-backed bonds. That demand-shifting move was announced last week and drove mortgage rates lower. It also marked the official start of the refinancing boom.

And, lastly, Capitol Hill is already responding to the jobs data with calls for “urgent” action. It’s a vague term, to be sure, but history has shown that Congress could pass any number of measures, each meant to put more money into household budgets nationwide.

The U.S. is in a verified recession and Washington is throwing the kitchen sink at it.

The end result is that today’s job data is a non-event of sorts for active home buyers. Mortgage markets expected a poor reading and they got it. Normally, data like this would cause mortgage rates to spike but this is not a normal market.

Now, with markets expecting additional stimulus, mortgage rates are edging lower today with hopes of an economic rebound.

Source
Employers cut 533,000 jobs in Nov., most since 1974
Barbara Hagenbaugh
December 5, 2008, USA Today

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Business television is abuzz this morning with talk of “four-point-five percent mortgage rates”; the clip above ran on NBC Today. The news stems from a leaked story that the U.S. Treasury will intervene in the mortgage market, lowering rates a full percentage point below their current levels.

As cited by every journalist in every publication, however, the story is 100% speculation. Naturally, that doesn’t stop the press from covering it. When hope for homeowners gets spread in this manner, it’s important to remember some facts:

  1. The Treasury doesn’t set mortgage rates — Wall Street traders do. Historically, rates are based on the Supply and Demand for mortgage-backed bonds.
  2. Treasury intervention doesn’t guarantee low rates. That mortgage rates are up by a half-percent since last week proves it.
  3. Zero details about the plan have been confirmed, quoting CNBC. Everything you’ve heard about 4.5 percent rates is a guess at this point.

But, perhaps most importantly, nearly every analyst interviewed has expressed a belief that a Treasury-sponsored stimulus would apply to home buyers only. Homeowners wanting a refinance, in other words, would be ineligible.

Mortgage rates are very low today compared to where they’ve been in 2006, 2007 and 2008. If you think your mortgage rate is too high for this market, reach out to your loan officer to review all of your options. If rates really do reach 4.500 percent, you can always refinance again later.

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For the 78th consecutive day, gas prices fell nationwide yesterday. At $1.81 per gallon, the average price at the pump is less than half what it was at its peak in July.

And although gas prices vary by locale, the cost of a fill-up is worthy of national news.

The main reason why national gas prices matter is because of something called the Wealth Effect — people’s tendency to spend more money when they have a perceived feeling of being worth more.

Low gas prices can amplify the Wealth Effect, leading to higher levels of consumer spending nationwide — the primary driver of the U.S. economy.

But more important than the Wealth Effect is the reverse Wealth Effect. That’s when consumers have a perceived feeling of being worth less and their spending reflects it. This past summer is a terrific example of it.

Soaring gas prices, Wall Street troubles, and negative campaigning constantly reminded Americans of what was wrong with the economy. It follows, therefore, that retail sales figures plunged in September and October. Once the election passed, however, and gas prices fell, a gentle optimism returned.

Not surprisingly, consumer confidence rose in November.

All of this matters to real estate because as Americans regain their confidence and feel more “wealthy”, they will be more likely to make “move up” purchase, buy new home appliances, and take other actions that propel the economy forward.

Oh, and mortgage rates trolling at 3-year lows certainly helps, too.

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Your 30-day rate lock is really a 12-day rate lockEach Wednesday, the Mortgage Bankers Association releases its Weekly Applications Survey, a detailed look at new mortgage applications submitted over the previous 7 days.

This week’s report will reveal what most of us already know — plunging mortgage rates created a flood of mortgage activity.

If you’re among the many Americans taking advantage of today’s low rates, don’t forget that when your rate was “locked”, it was locked with an expiration date.

Most likely, that rate lock is for 30 days.

And, while 30 days may seem like a long time, it’s not. Especially because rate locks made prior to Thanksgiving lose a combined 14 days to weekends and holidays, plus another 4 days to the Right To Cancel clause.

A 30-day rate lock, therefore, yields just 12 “working” days in which to underwrite and approve the mortgage and that’s not a lot of time at all.

Making matters more difficult, many lenders are ill-equipped for boom.

Not only has staff been pared down in expectation of a slowing economy, but December a prime vacationing month, too. Lenders are short-staffed at a very inopportune time.

So, for active refinancing homeowners, the best way to preserve a 30-day rate lock is to be as responsive as possible to the process:

  • If paystubs are requested, return them on the same day
  • If a home appraisal is needed, schedule the appraisal immediately
  • If a closing date is scheduled, don’t postpone it by a day

As mortgage rates hang near 3-year lows, the number of refinancing homeowners nationwide will grow, further taxing lenders and their staff. If you already have a loan in process, be pro-active about it to prevent your 30-day rate lock from expiring.

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Despite soft housing numbers and evidence of a slowing economy, mortgage rate shoppers found reason to celebrate:

These 3 elements helped drive mortgage rates to their lowest levels since January 2008 — in some cases shaving a full percentage point off the offered rate.

Homeowners responded to the dip and refinance activity reached “a frenzy“. As evidence, at least one national mortgage bank reported more loans were locked on Tuesday, November 25 than for the first 24 days of the month combined. Anecdotally, other lenders saw similar action.

However, low rates rarely stick around.

The last time that rates like they did last week, markets recovered within a week and rates returned to “normal”. This week provides ample chance for that to happen again.

Throughout the early part of the week, 5 members of the Fed will make public appearances, including Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. With the Fed’s next meeting scheduled for December 15, markets will be looking for clues about how the Fed may change the Fed Funds Rate.

When the Fed Funds Rate falls, mortgage rates tend to rise on the news.

Then, on Thursday, retailers start announcing their “same store” sales figures for November. This will clue us in to the true health of the economy because consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of it. If same-store sales are dramatically lower, expect calls for a large Fed Funds Rate cut.

And lastly, Friday brings us the jobs report. As terrible as the employment reports have been this year, it will take an especially higher number of jobs lost in November, or an exceedingly high Unemployment Rate to have much of an impact on mortgage rates.

This month, weak jobs data should be harmful to mortgage rates because more out-of-work Americans may lead to more mortgage defaults nationwide, plus additional Fed Funds Rate cuts.

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The day after Thanksgiving is a busy shopping day nationwide and, this year, analysts are paying extra attention to sales figures.

Dubbed “Black Friday” in reference to red ink representing loss and black ink representing gain, today’s start to the Holiday Shopping season is believed to be the day that retailer balance sheets finally cross over to profitability.

But the accounting connotation of the phrase “Black Friday” wasn’t its original usage — it’s a media-coined term.

When the phrase was first used in Philadelphia in 1975, it was in reference to the day after Thanksgiving being the busiest shopping and traffic day of the year.

There’s other Black Friday trivia out there, too:

Did you know? Black Friday is neither the largest, nor the most profitable, shopping day of the year. Contrary to popular wisdom, it’s the 5th biggest, not the first. The two weekends before Christmas are usually the “biggest” series of days.

Did you know? In an attempt to spur the economy in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed to move Thanksgiving ahead by 7 days. 7 more days of shopping, he thought, would help retailers and help the economy. Eventually, the idea dubbed “Franksgiving” failed.

Did you know? To protect competitors from price matching “deals”, some retailers copyright their Black Friday advertising. Others won’t print prices at all.

Did you know? Last year, 14 percent of Black Friday shoppers had made a purchase prior to 4:00 A.M. with an average ticket of $347.

Black Friday is of special significance this year because consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the U.S. economy. If Americans are shopping in full force, expect economic optimism and a mild rebound in the stock market. Unfortunately for home buyers, this should also lead mortgage rates higher.

By contrast, if sales figures are weak, expect talk of recession to grow.

Sources
Black Friday (Shopping)
Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Friday_%28shopping%29

Geek Trivia: Early bird special
Tech Republic
Jay Garmon, Nov 22, 2005
http://articles.techrepublic.com.com/5100-10878_11-5958978.html

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Mortgage rates fell after the Fed announced a 500 billion plan to invest in FNMA mortgage-backed bondsLike everything else on Wall Street, mortgage markets are based on supply and demand. When demand outweighs supply, mortgage rates fall.

So, Tuesday, when the government unexpectedly announced a $500 billion budget for buying mortgage debt from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the demand side of the mortgage market ballooned.

The surprise demand helped push mortgage rates to their lowest levels since January 22, 2008. 30-year fixed mortgage rates were down by as much as three-quarters of a percent Tuesday before retreating higher.

Not coincidentally, January 22, 2008, was the date of another unexpected government intervention — a surprise 0.750 percent Fed Funds Rate cut that was meant to spur the economy forward.

Interventions like these are a big reason why predicting mortgage rates is tough business — just when you discover the market’s balance point, an outside force shifts that balance, creating tremendous amounts of uncertainty about the future.

Uncertainty on Wall Street is typically bad for mortgage rate shoppers because it leads to high levels of volatility. Look at the trading pattern from Market Open to Market Close yesterday:

  • 8:30 AM ET: Markets open with rates falling on the news
  • 10:00 AM ET : Rates fall more on momentum trading
  • 12:00 PM ET : Rates level at their lowest levels of the day
  • 2:00 PM ET : Rates rise as profit-taking begins
  • 3:30 PM ET : Rates rise more on momentum trading
  • 4:00 PM ET : Markets close with rates down by half

Again, not coincidentally, this is the exact trading pattern from January 22, 2008. On that day, rates were at their lowest about 3 hours into trading, and then consistently rose all the way into Market Close — just like we saw Tuesday.

Unfortunately, in the 30 days that followed January 22, mortgage rates rose from a 3-year low to a 3-year high. And, it’s not to say that the same thing will happen from now through December 25, but trading patterns have a tendency to repeat themselves over time.

Mortgage markets seek balance and when there’s a dramatic shift, chaos can creates opportunity. Tuesday’s $500 billion pledge added new demand and shocked the mortgage market system. Before long, it recovered to find balance.

As of today, mortgage rates are still hovering near their 3-year lows so if you haven’t spoken to your loan officer about a refinance, consider calling today.

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In real estate, the term existing home refers to a “used” property; one that can’t be classified as new construction.

The number of existing homes sold each month is tracked by the National Association of REALTORS. The report is often used as a gauge for the health of the real estate market nationwide.

In October, nearly 5 million existing homes sold across the U.S. This figure represents a slight drop from September’s reading, and a equally slight drop from the October 2007 data.

But, October’s Existing Home Sales figures marked the 14th straight month in which Existing Home Sales straddled 5-million units. This is a remarkable statistic because 14 months of anything is a pattern, not a blip. Despite what the news tells us, Americans are buying and selling real estate at a somewhat steady clip.

As we head into the Holiday Season, buyer activity should slow, reducing demand for homes. At the same time, however, widespread foreclosure moratoriums should reduce the number of homes available to buy. These forces should counter-act to help keep the market (and prices) in balance.

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As the stock market retraced to its 1997 level, mortgage markets improved last week — but not by much.

Mortgage rates closed out the week slightly lower, but the week wasn’t without fireworks.

  1. Calls of deflation grew louder
  2. The automakers left Washington without a bailout
  3. Citigroup’s stock price fell to the equivalent of its ATM fee

Separately, each of these elements would have created confusion on Wall Street. Together, they created near chaos. Stocks traded at a pace last week that has never been equaled.

As a result, mortgage rates were volatile, too.

Over the 5-day workweek, multiple mortgage lenders issued 11 distinct rate sheets, meaning that consumer mortgage rates changed every 3 hours, 38 minutes on average last week.

This is why home buyers should rate shop quickly. Wait too long and the mortgage rate is gone. And this week doesn’t figure to be any less volatile.

To start, it’s a holiday-shortened week. Fewer traders will be working as the week moves forward, making the Price Discovery process more difficult. With fewer active buyers and sellers, wild price swings are likely and mortgage rates should feel the impact.

Next, markets will debate the Citigroup Bailout, wondering whether this will (finally) mark the market bottom. It’s a conversation about which Wall Street never tires and with each bit of optimism, money should flow into stocks to the detriment of mortgage bonds and mortgage rates.

And lastly, there are 9 economic releases crammed into Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week, including two housing reports and an inflationary gauge behind which the Fed puts a lot of credence.

Signs of stabilization should buoy both stock markets and mortgage rates — Wall Street is craving balance of some sort to carry it into the New Year.

There are no Fed speakers scheduled for this week so watch for data and market sentiment to lead the markets. For rate shoppers, this means more rate sheets.

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