After rising for two weeks, mortgage rates moved a little lower this week. Slower than average economic growth and low inflation persuaded investors to purchase bonds, including mortgage-backed securities. Following three months of declines, mortgage rates appear to be settling into a range so far in September.
The most significant economic data released during the week was the monthly inflation reports. Rising inflation erodes the value of bonds and pushes mortgage rates higher. In the current economic environment, higher inflation is not a concern, and some investors are more worried about the risk of inflation falling too low. The Fed is generally most comfortable when core inflation is rising at an annual rate between 1.0% and 2.0%. In August, the core Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased at a low 0.9% annual rate. While this level is probably not low enough to prompt new action from the Fed, investors will be closely watching what the Fed has to say about inflation rates at next Tuesday’s meeting.
Hearings began this week on the role of government in the housing market, including the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The debate is expected to be lengthy, and the Obama administration has stated that it will produce a proposal in January. There is general agreement that government involvement has created a more liquid market for mortgages, which has resulted in lower mortgage rates. The early consensus is that there is an appropriate role for government in the housing market, but that proper safeguards must be established to reduce the future risk to taxpayers. In any case, changes are expected to be phased in gradually over a period of years.