Fed Minutes Show An Improving U.S. Economy Threatened By The Eurozone

January 12, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Federal Reserve 

FOMC Minutes December 2011The Federal Reserve has released the minutes from its most recent Federal Open Market Committee meeting. The Fed Minutes are a detailed meeting recap; the companion piece to the more brief, more well-known press release.

As a comparison, the minutes of the last FOMC meeting contained 60 paragraphs and 7,027 words. The post-meeting press release was just 5 paragraphs and 382 words.

December’s Fed Minutes shows Fed members with a positive, cautious, take on the economy.

Recent data suggests that the U.S. economy is expanding, the Fed said, but “strains” in global financial markets pose “significant risks” to the downside. This tell us that the Fed believes its economy-stimulating programs are working, but that officials remained concerned by events in the Eurozone.

The U.S. economy could be impacted by fallout. 

Other meeting consensus included : 

  • On growth : The economy is expanding, despite slowing in “global economic growth”
  • On housing : Data suggests the “depressed” market “could be improving”
  • On inflation : Prices are stable, and remain within tolerance levels

The Fed’s analysis was of little surprise to Wall Street, and going forward, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke wants to keep it that way. The Fed Minutes contained a passage regarding market communication, and how the Fed will be more pro-active about it in the future. 

With the release of its minutes, in a section called “Market Policy Communications”, the Federal Reserve showed its plans to release 4 times annually its economic forecasts, and plans for the Fed Funds Rate. This signals in a shift in Federal Reserve transparency.

The Federal Reserve will begin including the forecast in its economic projections beginning after its next policy meeting, January 24-25, 2012.

Mortgage rates in Ohio were little changed after the release of the Fed Minutes.

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A Simple Explanation Of The Federal Reserve Statement (December 13, 2011 Edition)

December 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Federal Reserve 

Putting the FOMC statement in plain EnglishTuesday, the Federal Open Market Committee voted to leave the Fed Funds Rate unchanged within its current target range of 0.000-0.250 percent.

The vote was nearly unanimous for the second straight month. Just one FOMC member dissented in the vote, favoring additional policy stimulus beyond what the Federal Reserve currently provides.

In its press release, the Federal Reserve sais that the the U.S. economy is improving, noting that since its November 2011 meeting, the economy has been “expanding moderately”. The Fed also added that domestic growth is occurring despite some “apparent slowing in global growth” — a nod to ongoing uncertainty within the Eurozone.

The Federal Reserve expects a moderate pace of growth over the next few quarters, and believes that the jobs market will continue to improve, but slowly.

Other potential soft spots within the economy include :  

  1. A slowdown in business investment
  2. A “depressed” housing market
  3. Strains in global financial markets

The Federal Reserve added no new policies at its December meeting, and made no changes to existing ones. It re-iterated its plan to leave the Fed Funds Rate within its current range of 0.000-0.250 percent “at least until mid-2013” and re-affirmed “Operation Twist” — the stimulus program through which the Fed sells Treasury securities with a maturity of 3 years or less, and uses the proceeds to buy mortgage bonds with maturity between 6 and 30 years.

Mortgage bonds are mostly unchanged since the Fed’s announcement, giving mortgage rates in Madeira little reason to rise or fall.

Mortgage rates remain near all-time lows and, for homeowners willing to pay points + closing costs, 30-year fixed rate mortgages can be locked at less than 4 percent. If you’re thinking of buying or refinancing a home, it’s a good time to lock a mortgage rate.

The FOMC’s next meeting will be its first scheduled meeting of the new year. The meeting is slated for January 24-25, 2012.

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A Simple Explanation Of The Federal Reserve Statement (November 2, 2011 Edition)

November 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Federal Reserve 

Putting the FOMC statement in plain EnglishWednesday, the Federal Open Market Committee voted to leave the Fed Funds Rate unchanged within its current target range of 0.000-0.250 percent.

The vote was nearly unanimous, with just one dissenting voter. There were 3 dissenters at each of the FOMC’s last two meetings.

In its press release, the Federal Reserve presented an improved outlook for the U.S. economy, noting that since its last meeting in September, there’s new evidence that the economy “strengthened somewhat” in the third quarter.

One example cited is that consumer and business spending continues to rise while inflationary pressures on the economy remain modest. This indicates controlled growth — a plus in a recovering economy.   

The economy remains slowed by a number of factors, though, as noted by the Fed :

  1. “Continuing weakness” in the labor market
  2. Softness in commercial real estate
  3. A “depressed” housing market

In response to mixed economic conditions, the FOMC opted to “do nothing” today; it introduced no new monetary policy, and revised none of its existing market stimulus. The Fed re-iterated its plan to leave the Fed Funds Rate in its current range near 0.000 percent “at least until mid-2013″ and affirmed “Operation Twist” — the program in which the Fed sells Treasury securities with a maturity of 3 years or less, and uses the proceeds to buy mortgage bonds with maturity between 6 and 30 years.

Mortgage market reaction to the FOMC statement has been negative this afternoon. Mortgage rates throughout Kentucky are rising because analysts expected the Fed to launch new, bigger stimulus plans. It didn’t. Rates may drift higher for the new few days, too.

Therefore, it today’s mortgage rates fit your household budget, consider locking in a mortgage rate. Mortgage rates are very low right now, relative to history. It may not last.

The FOMC’s next meeting — its last scheduled meeting of the year — is December 13, 2011.

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Make Your Mortgage Rate Strategy : The Federal Reserve Starts A 2-Day Meeting

November 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Federal Reserve 

Comparing the Fed Funds Rate to Mortgage RatesThe Federal Open Market Committee begins a scheduled, 2-day meeting today, the seventh of its 8 scheduled meetings this year, and the eighth Fed meeting overall.

The FOMC is a 12-person sub-committee within the Federal Reserve. It’s the group responsible for setting the nation’s monetary policy and is led by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

The FOMC’s most well-known role is as the steward of the Fed Funds Rate. This is the overnight rate at which U.S. banks borrow money from each other. The Fed Funds Rate is a unique, “banking” interest rate, and should not be confused with consumer interest rates, a category which includes “mortgage rates”.

Mortgage rates are not set by the Federal Reserve. 

Rather, mortgage rates are based on the price of mortgage-backed bonds. If mortgage rates correlated to the FOMC’s Fed Funds Rate, the chart at right would be linear.

That said, the FOMC does exert influence on mortgage markets.

After its FOMC meetings, the Federal Reserve issues a press release to the public. In it, the central banker summarizes economic conditions nationwide, highlighting threats to the economy and areas of strength.

When the Federal Reserve’s statement is generally “positive”, mortgage rates tend to rise. This is because a strengthening economy invites investors to assume more risk, spurring equity markets at the expense of all bonds types, including the mortgage-backed kind.

When bond markets lose, mortgage rates rise.

Conversely, when the Fed is generally negative, bond markets gain, pushing mortgage rates lower throughout Kentucky.

The Fed can also influence mortgage rates via new policy.

At its last meeting, the FOMC launched a new, $400-billion round of mortgage-market stimulus known as Operation Twist. The added mortgage-bond support led mortgage rates lower post-FOMC meeting. 

The Fed may expand Operation Twist as soon as Wednesday afternoon. It may also take no such steps at all. Unfortunately, there are few clues about what the Federal Reserve may do next, if anything at all. As a result, mortgage rates will be a moving target for the next 36 hours. First, they’ll be volatile before of the Fed’s statement. Then, they’ll be volatile after the Fed’s statement.

Even if the Fed does nothing, mortgage rates will change so your safest play is to lock a mortgage rate ahead of Wednesday’s 2:15 PM ET adjournment.

There too much risk in floating.

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A Simple Explanation Of The Federal Reserve Statement (September 21, 2011 Edition)

September 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Federal Reserve 

Putting the FOMC statement in plain EnglishWednesday, the Federal Open Market Committee voted to leave the Fed Funds Rate unchanged within its current target range of 0.000-0.250 percent.

The vote was 7-3 — the second straight meeting at which the FOMC adjourned with as many 3 dissenters. Prior to that last meeting, there hadn’t been 3 FOMC dissenters since 1992.

In its press release, the Federal Reserve presented a dour outlook for the U.S. economy, noting that since its last meeting in August:

  1. Economic growth “remains slow”
  2. Unemployment rates “remain elevated”
  3. The housing sector “remains depressed”

The Fed also said that there are “significant downside risks” to the economic outlook, tied to strains in the global financial markets.  

The news wasn’t all bad, however.

The Fed noted that business investment in equipment and software continues to expand, and that inflationary pressures on the economy appear to have stabilized. The Fed then re-iterated its plan to leave the Fed Funds Rate in its current range near 0.000 percent “at least until mid-2013”. This means that Prime Rate — the rate to which credit card rates and lines of credits are often tied — should remain unchanged at 3.250 for at least another 2 years.

Furthermore, as expected, the Federal Reserve launched a market stimulus plan aimed at lowering long-term interest rates. The Fed will sell $400 billion in Treasury securities with a maturity of 3 years or less, and use the proceeds to buy the same with maturity between 6 and 30 years.

Mortgage market reaction to the FOMC statement has been positive this afternoon. Mortgage rates in Kentucky are improving, but note that Wall Street sentiment can shift quickly — especially in a market that’s as uncertain as this one.

If today’s mortgage rates and payments fit your household budget, consider locking in a rate. Rates can change swiftly.

The FOMC’s next meeting is a 2-day affair, scheduled for November 1-2, 2011.

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The Fed Adjourns At 2:15 PM ET Today : What It Means For Mortgage Rates

September 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Federal Reserve 

Comparing 30-year fixed to Fed Funds Rate (1990-2011)

The Federal Open Market Committee adjourns from a two-day, scheduled meeting today, the sixth of 8 scheduled meetings this year, and the seventh Fed meeting overall.

The FOMC is a designated, 12-person committee within the Federal Reserve, led by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. The FOMC is the voting members for the country’s monetary policy. Among its other responsibilities, the FOMC sets the Fed Funds Rate, the overnight rate at which banks borrow money from each other.

Note that the “Fed Funds Rate” is different from “mortgage rates”. Mortgage rates are not set by the Fed. Rather, they are based on the price of mortgage-backed bonds, a security traded among investors.

As the chart at top illustrates, the Fed Funds Rate and conforming mortgage rates in Mason have little correlation. Since 1990, the two benchmark rates have been separated by as much as 5.29 percent, and have been as close as 0.52 percent.

Today, the separation between the Fed Funds Rate and the national average for a standard, 30-year fixed rate mortgage is roughly 4 percent. This spread will change, however, beginning 2:15 PM ET Wednesday. That’s when the FOMC adjourns from its meeting and releases its public statement to the markets.

There is no doubt that the Fed will leave the Fed Funds Rate in its current target range of 0.000-0.250%; Fed Chairman Bernanke plans to leave the benchmark rate as-is until at least mid-2013. However, the Fed is expected to add new support for markets.

Unfortunately, there are few clues about how the Fed will support markets, and there is no consensus opinion regarding the size of the said support. As a result, mortgage rates should be bouncy today. First, they’ll be volatile ahead of the Fed’s statement. Then, they’ll be volatile post-Fed statement.

Even if the Fed does nothing, mortgage rates will change. This is because Wall Street is prepping for an announcement and — no matter what the Fed says or does — investors will want to react accordingly.

When mortgage markets are volatile, the safest move is to lock your mortgage rate in. There too much risk to float.

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Capitalize On Low Interest Rates In Overlooked Places

September 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Personal Finance 

It’s no secret. Rates are low right now. And, it’s not just mortgage rates, either — all types of rates are scraping rock-bottom. Borrowing rates, lending rates and savings rates are at or near their all-time lowest levels.

As a homeowner in Madeira , one way to take capitalize on today’s low rates is to apply to refinance your home. But there are other ways to take advantage, too.

In this 5-minute piece from NBC’s The Today Show, you’ll learn of a half-dozen ways to exploit the current rate environment, including:

  • Refinance a car loan from a high rate to a low rate, for cheap, in an hour
  • Balance transfers between credit cards with teaser rates lasting up to 20 months
  • Move some savings to an “online” bank where savings rates are higher

The interview’s theme is to examine both where you’re spending and saving your money, and make sure you’re doing what’s best for your budget.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has pledged to hold the Fed Funds Rate near 0.000% until at least 2013. So long as the Fed Funds Rate is low, there will be places you can save.

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Mortgage Rates Don’t Move With The Fed Funds Rate

August 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Mortgage Rates 

Fed Funds rate vs Mortgage Rates 2000-2011Last week, at its 5th scheduled meeting of the year, the Federal Open Market Committee voted to leave the Fed Funds Rate in its target range near zero percent.

The Fed Funds Rate has been near zero percent since December 2008 and, in its official statement, the FOMC pledged to leave the Fed Funds Rate untouched for at least another 2 years.

This doesn’t mean mortgage rates will be untouched for 2 years, though. 

Mortgage rates and the Fed Funds Rate are two different interest rates; completely disconnected. If mortgage rates and the Fed Funds Rate moved in tandem, the chart at right would be a straight line.

Instead, it’s jagged.

To make the point more strongly, let’s use real-life examples from the past decade.

  • June 2004, 529 basis points separated the Fed Funds Rate and the 30-year fixed mortgage rate
  • June 2006, 168 basis points separated the Fed Funds Rate and the 30-year fixed mortgage rate

Today, the separation between the two benchmark rates is 407 basis points.

1 basis point is equal to 0.01%.

Between now and mid-2013, when the Fed may begin changing the Fed Funds Rate, the spread between rates will change based on economic expectation — not Fed action (or non-action). If the economy is expected to improve, mortgage rates in Mason will rise and the spread will widen.

Should mortgage rates cross 6 percent before the Fed starts raising rates, it will create the widest interest rate spread in history, surpassing the 615 basis point difference set in August 1982. 

At the time, the Fed Funds Rate was 10.12% and mortgage rates averaged 16.27%.

On the other hand, if the economy shows signs of a slowdown for late-2011 and beyond, mortgage rates are expected to drop.

Shopping for a mortgage can be tough — especially in a volatile environment like the current one. Mortgage rates move independent of the Fed Funds Rate. Make sure you’re watching the proper market indicators. It’s your best chance to lock the lowest rate possible.

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What Perks Does Your Favorite Credit Card Offer?

August 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Personal Finance 

Last week, the Federal Reserve pledged to leave the Fed Funds Rate near 0.000 percent until at least mid-2013. For credit card holders in Kentucky who carry a monthly balance, this is good news. Because of the Fed’s call, credit card rates are unlikely to rise before mid-2013.

But cardholders can save on more than just interest costs, as you’ll learn from this two-and-a-half minute piece with NBC’s The Today Show. In the interview, you’ll hear about “built-in” perks offered by most credit cards and ways by which you can save on everyday goods and services.

For example, did you know your everyday credit card might offer:

  • Travel perks : Automatic trip cancellation protection and car rental insurance.
  • Shopping perks : Discount admission to concerts and museums; free shipping from overseas.
  • Consumer perks : Price protection against a drop in price; insurance against theft; extended warranties.

And it’s not just “high end” cards that offer these options, either. Credit cards of all types do what they can to improve consumer loyalty. Offering free perks is just one way in which they try.

Most credit cards offer websites detailing cardmember perks and benefits. Visit the site of your favorite card and see where you might save on everyday items.

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