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Industry reacts: While June rate hike expected, rest of year remains uncertain

Four meetings left this year

While Wednesday’s interest rate hike didn’t come as a surprise to the market, the rest of the year doesn’t look as certain, as industry reactions start to pour in on the news.  

The common consensus heading into Wednesday’s meeting was that the Fed would raise interest rates, so the impact was already priced into the market.

“Recent weak economic data – notably, inflation and consumer spending – suggest that the pace of future hikes will remain slow,” said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. “This hike was largely priced in to markets already, so mortgage rates should remain flat or even fall slightly.”

From here, there are now four scheduled Federal Open Market Committee meetings left for the year, and there’s not a clear consensus on whether the Federal Reserve will raise rates again.  

National Association of Realtors Chief Economist Lawrence Yun explained that the latest rate hike is partly justified from ongoing economic expansion and also a steadily falling unemployment rate.

“However, the Federal Reserve should be mindful of the lower than expected rate of inflation and the consequent low interest rates on long-dated bonds, like 10-year Treasury and 30-year mortgage rates,” he said. “An inversion in interest rates of short-term fed funds being higher than long-term bond yields can easily pull down the economy into a recession. We are getting closer to that inversion point.”

The most recent Freddie Mac mortgage report said that interest rates are at the lowest level in nearly seven months due to mixed economic data. The report put the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at 3.89% for the week ending June 8, 2017.

And the economic uncertainty isn’t over yet moving into the rest of the year. “Policymakers are proceeding with caution,” explained Mike Schenk, Credit Union National Association vice president of economics and statistics. “Expectations of economic stimulus arising from tax cuts and from increased federal infrastructure spending were baked in to most economic forecasts earlier this year.”

“However, with each passing day, both tax reform and additional spending on roads, bridges, and the like seem less certain. Fed decision makers will undoubtedly be following developments on this front very closely,” he continued.

Meanwhile, another major part of the FOMC report includes the Fed’s plan for its balance sheet. Tucked into the May FOMC meeting minutes, the Fed revealed its plan to start to unwind the $4.5 trillion portfolio of bonds, which this latest announcement expanded on.

“The Fed will begin to reduce the securities held on its balance sheet later this year, limiting the amount of securities that will be allowed to run-off each month. With lower caps for mortgage-backed securities compared to Treasuries, it is possible that there will be less widening in mortgage spreads than previously estimated,” said Mortgage Bankers Association Chief Economist Mike Fratantoni.

“The plan emphasizes that the balance sheet will be reduced in a gradual and predictable manner and as Chair Janet Yellen described in the press conference, the process will be ‘running quietly in the background’ if economic growth and inflation continues as expected.”  

Fratantoni added that the statement also reaffirmed that the target fed funds rate is still the primary means for monetary policy action.

“Markets viewed the statement as more hawkish than anticipated, with 10-year Treasury rates rising slightly following the statement,” he said.  

Looking ahead, Fratantoni said, “The outlook was slightly upgraded, with increased household spending and business fixed investment, a labor market that has continued to strengthen, and economic activity ‘rising moderately.’ There was acknowledgement of recent declines in inflation, but the committee continues to expect this is temporary and will pick up.”

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