February 14th, 2011
There are six economic reports worth watching this week that are likely to affect mortgage rates in addition to the minutes from the last FOMC meeting and two speaking appearances from Fed Chairman Bernanke.
This is a far cry from last week’s schedule, making it very likely that we will see plenty of movement in mortgage pricing this week.
There is no relevant economic data scheduled for today, so look for the stock markets to be the biggest influence on bond trading and mortgage rates. The week’s first release is one of the highly important ones when the Commerce Department posts January’s Retail Sales data. This report is very important to the financial markets because it measures consumer spending. Since consumer spending makes up two-thirds of the U.S. economy, any related data is watched quite closely.
If Tuesday’s report reveals weaker than expected sales, the bond market should thrive and mortgage rates will fall since it would be a sign that the economy is not as strong as many had thought. However, a stronger reading than the 0.5% increase that is expected could lead to higher mortgage rates.
Wednesday brings us three economic releases in addition to the FOMC minutes. January’s Housing Starts will be posted early Wednesday morning, giving us an indication of housing sector strength and mortgage credit demand. It usually does not affect rates unless the results vary greatly from forecasts. Current forecasts are calling for an increase in starts of new housing.
The Labor Department will post their Producer Price Index (PPI) for January early Wednesday morning also. It measures inflationary pressures at the producer level of the economy and is considered to be one the two key measures of inflation we see each month. The core data is more important to market participants because it excludes more volatile food and energy prices. It is expected to show an increase of 0.7% in the overall reading and a 0.2% rise in the core data. Good news for bonds would be a decline in both readings, particularly the core data as it would ease concerns about inflation that make long-term securities less attractive to investors.
January’s Industrial Production data will be released mid-morning Wednesday. It gives us a measurement of manufacturing sector strength by tracking output at U.S. factories, mines and utilities and can have a moderate impact on the financial markets. Analysts are expecting to see a 0.6% increase in production from December to January. A smaller than expected rise in output would be good news and should push bond prices higher, lowering mortgage rates Wednesday. That is assuming that the PPI doesn’t give us any negative surprises.
The minutes from last FOMC meeting will be released Wednesday afternoon. Traders will be looking for any indication of the Fed’s next move regarding monetary policy. They will be released at 2:00 PM ET, therefore, any reaction will come during afternoon trading.
These minutes may indicate if there is a consensus amongst Fed members or if there is disagreement about their actions or inactions. This release may lead to afternoon volatility Wednesday, or it may be a non-factor. However, the minutes do carry the potential to influence mortgage rates so they should be watched.
The sister report to Wednesday’s PPI will be posted early Thursday morning when the Labor Department releases January’s Consumer Price Index (CPI). The difference between the two is that the CPI measures inflationary pressures at the more important consumer level of the economy. With exception to maybe the Employment report, the CPI is the single most important report that we see each month. Its results can have a huge impact on the financial markets, especially on long-term securities such as mortgage-related bonds. It is expected to show a 0.3% increase in the overall index and a 0.1% rise in the more important core data. If we see weaker than expected readings, bond prices should rise and mortgage rates would likely fall.
Also Thursday morning will be the release of the Leading Economic Indicators (LEI) for January. This Conference Board report attempts to predict economic activity over the next three to six months. It is expected to show a 0.5% increase, meaning that economic activity may rise in the near future.
A smaller than expected rise would be good news for the bond market and mortgage rates, but the CPI draws much more attention than the LEI. Therefore, for this report to influence mortgage pricing, it will have to show a sizable variance from forecasts and the CPI will have to match estimates.
Fed Chairman Bernanke will speak before the Senate Banking Committee Thursday morning and overseas Friday morning. Neither engagement is expected to bring any new theories or give an indication of the Fed’s next move to boost or limit economic activity. The markets always watch his words, but I would be surprised if either of these lead to changes in mortgage rates.
Overall, the most important day of the week will likely be Thursday with the CPI being released, but Tuesday and Wednesday will also be active days for mortgage rates due to the importance of the Retail Sales data and the number of events scheduled Wednesday. There is nothing of concern scheduled for today or Friday, so we can label them the best candidates for the calmest day.
In other words, be prepared for an active week in the markets and mortgage rates, particularly the middle part of the week.