Interest Rate Roundup

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Historic bailout, huge efforts to make home loans cheaper drive mortgage rates ... UP?

Amidst all the $250 billion bailout hoopla, and the previous news that the government will buy up both whole loans and Mortgage Backed Securities, in an effort to drive financing costs DOWN, something interesting is going on -- and I don't see many people talking about it. Home mortgage rates aren’t falling. They're going UP.

The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage jumped to 6.47% in the week of October 10, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. That was up from 5.98% a week earlier and just shy of the August high (6.58%, itself the highest in more than a year).

How can rates be going up when the economy is tanking and the government is throwing everything it can at the banking sector and credit markets? Because bond investors are dumping bonds – and when bond PRICES fall, bond YIELDS (interest rates) rise.

Why are those investors selling? Well, we just learned that the budget deficit soared to $454.8 billion in fiscal 2008, which ended September 30. That was more than double the $161.5 billion deficit in 2007 and the highest in the history of the country. Thanks to all the fresh bailout programs, the deficit will likely surge by a few hundred billion MORE dollars in fiscal 2009.

But no one in Washington has shown any willingness to raise taxes to pay for these bailout programs. And there’s no a pile of money just sitting around in the U.S. Treasury to fund them, either. We’re a net debtor nation. We’re going to have to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars to make good on all of our promises.

That means a mammoth flood of Treasury debt is going to wash over the market in the coming year or two. Bond traders know that all of that bond supply will overwhelm bond demand. So they’re not sticking around. They’re selling bonds NOW, driving prices down and rates up.

Long bond futures have plunged from an intraday high of 124 23/32 in mid-September to 113-and-change now – a whopping 11-point decline. Ten-year Treasury yields have jumped from 3.39% to around 4.10%.

Bottom line: The government would like everyone to think it can just waive a magic wand, drive mortgage rates down, save the banking sector, and return us to the happy-go-lucky, reckless lending days of 2005. But it can’t. There is no free lunch. Indeed, instead of driving financing costs down, the bailout announcements are actually helping drive key financing rates (like 30-year mortgages) up!

If there is a bright side out there, it's that LIBOR rates are nudging lower. Three-month LIBOR was fixed at 4.55% this morning, for instance, vs. an October 10 high of 4.82%. Overnight LIBOR is much closer to the federal funds rate as well -- 2.14% vs. a FF target of 1.5% (a spread of 64 basis points). That compares to a spread of 488 basis points as of September 30.


  • Mike, thanks for posting insightful commentary. The fact that mortgage rates are surging in what appears to be the beginning of a deflationary cycle in so many asset classes is a supreme irony. Foreclosures are accelerating and home prices are falling and there is massive pain in the land. Commodities across the board are being pulverized. This brings me to your point about bonds which is very interesting, timely, and derserves everyone's attention. My take is that a tax hike will undoubtedly happen in the next administration regardless if only to reduce the bond forces of which you commented on today. Frankly, I happen to believe the Obama tax plan is much more sensible to me (extreme times have changed my mind here). I'm confident that folks making over $250,000 dollars paying more taxes makes alot of sense. I live in the midwest and I know many people who make over that amount who have said
    they would be willing to pay more and share the burden. I'm not a partisan in any of this just so you know where I'm coming from. The money has to come from somewhere and we've exhausted pretty much everything. History is very clear here. Mike, do you think additional tax revenue would stem some of the treasury debt exits that we're seeing? Thanks again, George

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 16, 2008 at 11:26 AM  

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