With little economic news to influence trading and despite a late-Friday afternoon spike, mortgage rates edged lower last week.
Two weeks ago, when it lowered the Fed Funds Rate by a quarter-percent, the Federal Reserve noted two things:
- The economy was stabilizing
- High energy costs threatened inflation
In the days that followed, though, the U.S. dollar strengthened and crude oil prices fell.
This positive reinforcement of the Fed’s outlook spurred the stock market at the expense of the bond market.
Mortgage rates rose during that period.
But, starting last Monday, the dollar started to soften and oil touched another all-time high. At $126 per barrel, crude oil is now close to double its May 12, 2007 price of $69.
High oil prices are inflationary and speak directly to the Federal Reserve’s concerns: Too much inflation can derail a fragile, recovering economy.
The stock market gave up its prior gains last week and that is why we saw mortgage rates improve — it was the unwinding of the economic optimism.
This week, optimism (or pessimism) about the economy will be swayed by a number of factors including Tuesday’s Retail Sales report and Friday’s Consumer Sentiment survey.
The most important data point to watch, though, will be Wednesday’s Consumer Price Index report. We know we should watch it Ben Bernanke told us to watch it. Keeping inflation in check, remember, is one of the Fed’s major focal points for the economy.
In addition, this week will feature 14 public speaking appearances by Federal Reserve members. Expect each speaker to speak plainly about the economy, its future and the Fed’s current rate-cutting cycle.
When Fed speakers stump, markets listen closely so expect mortgage rates to be jumpy all week long.