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Mortgage Rates Rising as US Treasuries Stop Buying Mortgage Securities

A recent article highlighted that the Federal Reserve’s decision to stop buying mortgage loan securities (MBS) should cause an increase in mortgage rates. But that won’t be the only thing driving up long-term interest rates: the Treasury’s trouble going forward in selling debt will also contribute to higher mortgage rates, according to a Morgan Stanley economist. According to Bloomberg, Yields on benchmark 10-year notes will climb about 40% to 5.5%, the biggest annual increase since 1999, according to David Greenlaw, chief fixed-income economist at Morgan Stanley in New York. The surge will push interest rates on 30-year fixed mortgage loans to 7.5% to 8%, almost the highest in a decade, Greenlaw said.

These are very high mortgage rates -and much higher than we’re used to seeing over the past several years. They should cut significantly into the demand for refinancing and even new home purchases. Mortgage rates like that could also worsen the foreclosures crisis, as many adjustable-rate mortgage loans (ARMs) have benefited from historically low interest rates. Once they adjust to near, or over, double-digits, many more homeowners with ARMs will be force to fold. The cause of this increase in home mortgage rates comes from what this economist believes will be a higher yield demanded for government Treasury securities. Those are generally considered risk-free rates, so any mortgage bearing a similar long-term coupon will consist of its default risk premium added to that risk-free rate. FHA guidelines are tightening and most conforming and jumbo loan programs have seen requirements increase for income documentation.

Bloomberg explains that the government debt will become more expensive because of both supply and demand: The U.S. will face increased competition from other debt issuers, spurring investors to demand higher yields as the Federal Reserve ends a $1.6 trillion asset-purchase program, according to James Caron, head of U.S. interest-rate strategy in New York at Morgan Stanley. The central bank was the largest purchaser of Treasuries in 2009 through a $300 billion buyback of the securities completed in October. The Treasury will sell a record $2.55 trillion of notes and bonds in 2010, an increase of about $700 billion, or 38%, from this year, Morgan Stanley estimates. Caron says total dollar-denominated debt issuance will rise by $2.2 trillion in the next year as corporate and municipal debt sales climb. So in addition to the pressure that I mentioned earlier stemming from the Fed’s departure from the MBS market, the broader investment community will likely drive rates higher on long-term debt as well. While bad news for the housing market, this is probably good news for sensible investing.

Federal Reserve Hints that Mortgage Rates Will Remain Low

The Federal Reserve is expected to leave mortgage interest rates at a record low this week, aiming to entice homeowners and businesses to borrow and spend and bolster the economic and housing recovery. The big question is whether Chairman Ben Bernanke and his colleagues will give hints about when they will reverse course and start boosting rates. A decision to raise interest rates is still months away. But plans for reeling in the unprecedented amount of money the Fed has plowed into the economy is likely to dominate its private discussions Tuesday and Wednesday. The Fed is expected to announce its policy decisions on Wednesday afternoon.

The current mortgage rates remain at record lows. Borrowers can find mortgage loans as low as 4.375% for 15-year fixed terms. Home loan applicants can find 30-year fixed mortgage rates as low as 4.625%, so the era of low mortgage rates continues. The central bank faces a high-stakes challenge: If it removes the stimulus too soon, it could short-circuit the recovery. But if it moves too late, it could unleash inflation or new speculative asset bubbles. Each scenario could feed a fresh economic crisis. Bernanke, who’s seeking a second term as Fed chief, has made clear his No. 1 task is sustaining the fragile recovery. Last week, he and other Fed officials signaled they are in no rush to start raising rates. At the same time, Bernanke has sought to assure skeptical lawmakers and investors that when the time is right, he’s prepared to sop up all the money.

Some encouraging signs for the economy have emerged lately. The nation’s unemployment rate dipped to 10% in November, from 10.2% in October. And layoffs have slowed. Employers cut just 11,000 jobs last month, the best showing since the recession started two years ago. Still, the Federal Reserve predicts unemployment will remain high because companies won’t ramp up hiring until they feel confident the recovery will last. Mortgage refinancing application volumes remain high and most lenders are reporting a 6 to 8 weeks turn-time for closing loans.

Consumers did show a greater appetite to spend in October and November. But high unemployment and hard-to-get credit are likely to restrain shoppers during the rest of the holiday season and into next year. “The economy isn’t on solid footing yet,” said Chris Rupkey, an economist at the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi. “So it’s best for the Fed to keep with the script of low interest rates.” The economy finally returned to growth in the third quarter, after four straight losing quarters. And all signs suggest it picked up speed in the current final quarter of this year. But analysts worry that the economy could weaken next year as government supports fade.

Last week, Bernanke warned that the economy confronts “formidable headwinds.” They include a weak job market, cautious consumers and tight credit. Against that backdrop, the Fed is all but certain to keep the target range for its bank lending rate at zero to 0.25 %, where it’s stood since last December. The Fed also is likely to retain a pledge first made in March to hold rates at such levels for “an extended period.” The central bank also isn’t expected to make any major changes to a program, set to expire in March, to help further drive down mortgage rates. In response, commercial banks’ prime lending rate, used to peg rates on home equity loans, certain credit cards and other consumer loans, will remain about 3.25 %. That’s its lowest point in decades.

Ultra-low mortgage interest rates are good for borrowers who can get a loan and are willing to take on more debt. But those same low rates hurt savers. They’re especially hard on people living on fixed incomes who are earning measly returns on savings accounts and certificates of deposit. Tight credit is clobbering small businesses, normally an engine of job creation during economic recoveries. That’s crimping their ability to hire and expand. Many small businesses rely on smaller banks for credit. But troubled commercial real estate loans are concentrated at those banks. That’s hobbled the flow of credit. At a White House meeting Monday, President Barack Obama urged top bankers to increase lending to small businesses. Afterward, some banks pledged to do so. Article was written by By JEANNINE AVERSA.