Fed Minutes : Fed Considered Additional Stimulus In August

FOMC Minutes August 2011

The Fed publishes meeting minutes 8 times annually -- three weeks after each scheduled Federal Open Market Committee get-together. The Fed Minutes summarizes the FOMC meeting.

The Federal Reserve released the minutes from its August 9, 2011 Federal Open Market Committee meeting Tuesday.

The Fed Minutes contained no surprises and, as a result, mortgage rates across Georgia and nationwide have idled.

Although it gets less press attention, the Fed Minutes is every bit as important as the more highly-publicized, post-meeting statement from the FOMC. With its detailed record of conversation, the Fed Minutes highlights the discussions and debates that shape our nation's monetary policy.

For example, here is some of what was said at the Fed's August 2011 meeting :

  • On growth : Economic growth had been slower than the committee expected
  • On housing : The market "remains depressed". Underwriting standards are "tight".
  • On rates : The Fed Funds Rate will remain low until mid-2013

In addition, the Fed talked about whether a third round of asset purchases should be announced. Ultimately, that plan was rejected by consensus.

The FOMC's next meeting is a 2-day meeting, scheduled for September 20-21. The meeting was originally scheduled for just one day, but Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke chose to extend it to two. Wall Street believes that the extension was made so Fed members could discuss new forms of economic stimulus.

Depending on the form of said stimulus -- if it should even occur -- mortgage rates may rise or fall. We can't know for certain unti the size and scope of the Fed's plan is known.

For now, mortgage rates remain rock-bottom. There's more room for rates to rise than to fall. If you're shopping for a loan and the rate looks right, therefore, consider locking on it.


Pending Home Sales Slip In July; Creates Buyer Opportunity

Pending Home Sales Jan 2010 - Jul 2011After 3 straight months of gains, the Pending Home Sales Index slipped 1 percent in July. The monthly report is published by the National Association of REALTORS® and measures the number of home under contract to sell nationwide.

The Pending Home Sales Index is closely watched by Wall Street and analysts because it's a forward-looking housing market indicator. Unlike most housing market data, though, Pending Home Sales forecasts a future housing market event. In this case, the Existing Home Sales report.

In its methodology, the Pending Home Sales Index states that 80% of homes under contract close within 2 months, with most of the remaining home going to closing within Months 3 and 4.

We would expect home sales data to taper into the fall buying season, but this year, they may taper more than normal. This is because, in a separate report, the National Association of REALTORS® said that contract cancellation rates are running high.

As compared to a 4 percent contract cancellation rate in May 2011, June and July both registered 16 percent. This means that fewer homes tallied as part of July's Pending Home Sales Index will show up as "closed sales" this fall.

Contracts can be canceled for any number of reasons including more stringent mortgage guidelines, appraisals falling short of the purchase price, and changing mortgage loan limits.

For home buyers in Kennesaw , the Pending Home Sales Index may represent an opportunity. Not only are fewer homes going under contract nationwide, but with cancellation rates spiking, sellers may be more willing to "make a deal".

Note, though, like all real estate, the pace at which homes go under contract is a "local" statistic; you can't assume national data applies to all markets equally. Your home market, for example, may out-perform -- or under-perform -- the national average.

For a closer look at what's happening on your street including the speed at which homes are selling, talk to a local real estate agent.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : August 29, 2011

Net new jobs August 2009-July 2011Last week was another volatile week for mortgage rates. Wall Street alternately sought risk and shunned it, causing mortgage-backed bonds to rise and fall rapidly.

There was a lot to move markets, too, including banking concerns across Europe, inflation figures within the U.S., and a public speech by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Conforming rates in Georgia rose to their highest levels of the week Wednesday afternoon, then receded into the weekend. 3

0-year fixed rates remain above their all-time lows set 2 weeks ago. 5-year ARMs are at all-time lows.

This week, mortgage rates figure to be equally jumpy. As well as a full slate of economic data, because of Labor Day, bond markets will be light on volume. When volume is light, pricing gets volatile.

The week's calendar of data includes:

  • Monday : Pending Home Sales Index; Personal Income and Outlays
  • Tuesday : FOMC Minutes; Fed President Kocherlakota speaks
  • Wednesday : Factory Orders
  • Thursday : Jobless Claims; ISM Manufacturing Index
  • Friday : Non-Farm Payrolls

Of all the reports, though, it's Friday's Non-Farm Payrolls that might move mortgage markets the most.

Jobs are crucial to the ongoing economic recovery and, from Wall Street to Capitol Hill, it's top of mind.

If the jobs report shows more jobs created than expected, or a positive forward trend, expect bond markets to fall, pushing mortgage rates up. On the other hand, if the jobs report is soft, mortgage rates may improve.

We can't know what rates in Kennesaw will do on any given day, so the best strategy for a shopper is to shop with purpose. Know what you want, and be ready to lock when you see it. 

If you wait too long, the rate will be gone.


Mortgage Rates Bounce Off All-Time Lows; The Start Of A Trend?

Freddie Mac Weekly Rates

Low mortgage rates are terrific -- if you can get them.

One week after posting its lowest mortgage rate in 50 years, Freddie Mac reports that the 30-year fixed rate mortgage rose by an average of 7 basis points nationwide this week to 4.22%. To get the rate, you'll pay an average of 0.7 "points".

This week's rise in the 30-year fixed rate mortgage pulled rates off their all-time lows so either you locked last week's rock-bottom rates, or you missed it.

Mortgage rates are rising.

As a refinancing homeowner or home buyer in Atlanta , rising mortgage rates are something to watch. This is because, as mortgage rates rise, so do the long-term interest costs of giving a mortgage, increasing your homeownership costs.

For example, if you failed to lock a rate last week when rates were bottomed, and then decided to lock-in only after rates had climbed 0.25 percent, at the new, higher rate, over the life of your loan, you would have responsibility for an extra $5,300 in interest costs for every $100,000 you borrowed.

Rising mortgage rates can be expensive.

For home buyers, rising mortgage rates pose a second problem -- they erode your purchasing power. A home that fits your budget at today's rates may not fit your budget at next week's rates. And because mortgage rates change quickly, you can sometimes feel ilke you're racing the clock.

The hard part about mortgage rates, though, is that we can never know what they'll do next. On some days they rise, on some days they fall, and on some days they stay the same. Instead of trying to "time the bottom", therefore, a good strategy can be to lock the first, low rate that fits your budget. Then, if rates are lower in the future, you can look to refinance at that time.

Mortgage rates remain at historical lows. It's a good time to lock a rate.


Ranking The Best Places To Live In The U.S. (2011 Edition)

Top Places To Live 2011CNNMoney recently released its Best Places To Live 2011 list.

The annual survey is based on data from Onboard Informatics. Using Quality of Life factors such as education, crime and "town spirit", and focusing on towns with between 8,500 and 50,000 residents, the CNNMoney survey ranks the country's best "small towns".

To be eligible, towns must be have a median household income greater than 85 percent, and less than 200 percent of the state median income; must not be a categorized as a "retirement community"; and must be racially-diverse.

From a list of 3,570 eligible towns nationwide, Louisville, Colorado was ranked #1.

The complete Top 10 Best Places to Live as cited by CNNMoney, and their respective average home listing prices :

  1. Louisville, Colorado ($383,569)
  2. Milton, Massachusetts ($577,008)
  3. Solon, Ohio ($291,162)
  4. Leesburg, Virginia ($486,018)
  5. Papillion, Nebraska ($218,520)
  6. Hanover, New Hampshire ($643,500)
  7. Liberty, Missouri ($177,678)
  8. Middleton, Wisconsin ($347,770)
  9. Mukilteo, Washington ($345,487)
  10. Chanhassen, Minnesota ($418,607)

Rankings like these can be helpful to home buyers nationwide, but it's important to remember that the Best Place To Live survey is subjective. You may find none of the above towns to be to your liking.

You may also find the lowest-ranked city to be your favorite.

In other words, before making a decision to buy, connect with a real estate agent who has local market knowledge. That's the best, most reliable way to make sure you get the housing data that matters to you.

Ranking The Best Places To Live In The U.S. (2011 Edition)

Top Places To Live 2011CNNMoney recently released its Best Places To Live 2011 list.

The annual survey is based on data from Onboard Informatics. Using Quality of Life factors such as education, crime and "town spirit", and focusing on towns with between 8,500 and 50,000 residents, the CNNMoney survey ranks the country's best "small towns".

To be eligible, towns must be have a median household income greater than 85 percent, and less than 200 percent of the state median income; must not be a categorized as a "retirement community"; and must be racially-diverse.

From a list of 3,570 eligible towns nationwide, Louisville, Colorado was ranked #1.

The complete Top 10 Best Places to Live as cited by CNNMoney, and their respective average home listing prices :

  1. Louisville, Colorado ($383,569)
  2. Milton, Massachusetts ($577,008)
  3. Solon, Ohio ($291,162)
  4. Leesburg, Virginia ($486,018)
  5. Papillion, Nebraska ($218,520)
  6. Hanover, New Hampshire ($643,500)
  7. Liberty, Missouri ($177,678)
  8. Middleton, Wisconsin ($347,770)
  9. Mukilteo, Washington ($345,487)
  10. Chanhassen, Minnesota ($418,607)

Rankings like these can be helpful to home buyers nationwide, but it's important to remember that the Best Place To Live survey is subjective. You may find none of the above towns to be to your liking.

You may also find the lowest-ranked city to be your favorite.

In other words, before making a decision to buy, connect with a real estate agent who has local market knowledge. That's the best, most reliable way to make sure you get the housing data that matters to you.


New Home Supplies Remain Flat; Builders Not Over-Extending

New Home Supply 2008-2011

Sales of newly-built homes slipped in July, falling 1 percent as compared to June. Home buyers closed on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized 298,000 units, the lowest reading since February.

The supply of new homes, however, remained flat.

July's 6.6 months of supply equaled June's tally and remains near the multi-year low of 6.5 months set in May of this year. The figures suggest a new home market that's finding its balance.

Builders are building to meet demand, and not much more.

The New Home Sales report may have read differently if not for the Northeast Region which doubled its sales units in July. The gains buoyed the broader data, re-affirming the importance of looking past national data and focusing on what's local; the national market is not reflective of any given town

Broken down by region, July New Home Sales fared as follows:

  • Northeast Region : +100.0% from June 2011 
  • Midwest Region : +2.4% from June 2011 
  • South Region : -7.4% from June 2011 
  • West Region : -5.9% from June 2011 

However, as with most months, it's important that we recognize the New Home Sales data's margin of error.

Although New Home Sales showed a 1 percent drop in July, the reported margin of error was ±12.9%. This means that the actual reading could have been as high as +11.9 percent, or as low as -13.9 percent. Because the range includes both positive and negative values, the Census Bureau assigned its July data "zero confidence".

New Home Sales appear to be stable, despite falling sales figures. Supplies remain flat and builder confidence does, too. The good news for buyers in Marietta , then, is that lower mortgage rates are making homes more affordable.

Mortgage rates are currently at 50-year lows.


Existing Home Sales Slip In July

Existing Home Sales dataHome resales slipped in July.

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, Existing Home Sales nationwide fell to 4.67 million units on a seasonally-adjusted annualized basis last month. It's the fourth straight month below the 5 million mark, and the report's lowest reading since November 2010.

An "existing home" is a home that's been previously occupied or owned.

In addition, the Existing Home Sales report showed home supplies rising nationwide. At the current pace of sales, in other words, the complete, national "For Sale" inventory would be exhausted in 9.4 months. This, too, is the worst reading since November 2010.

On a units basis, however, the number of homes for sale actually fell in July. As compared to June, home resale inventory dropped 65,000 units to 3.65 million.

From these figures, we can infer that, despite low mortgage rates and lagging home values, buyer activity is slowing in Georgia and nationwide. This may be seasonal, or it may be a long-term trend.

Either way, there's opportunity for today's home buyers.

With mortgage rates at all-time lows, home affordability is peaking. More households can afford housing payments than during any time in history and with the fall season approaching, buyers in Kennesaw may find contracts negotiations to be more "friendly".

This can mean lower sale prices and larger concessions from sellers -- the hallmark of a Buyer's Market.

It's a good time to look at your options. Talk to your real estate agent and see what's out there for you. Low home prices may persist, but low mortgage rates likely won't.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : August 22, 2011

Eurozone concerns aid mortgage ratesMortgage markets improved again last week, pushing mortgage rates in Georgia to an all-time low; lower than the lows set last November, even.

Last week's low mortgage rate drivers are primarily European. Joining the debt concerns that have dogged Europe since March, a fresh wave of doubt has surfaced about the health of some Eurozone banks. The fears sparked a new wave of safe haven buying.

Global equities were socked last week and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell for the 4th straight week. For home buyers in Marietta , though, the timing may be perfect. As stock markets lose, bond markets gain and when bond markets gain, mortgage rates drop.

According to government-group Freddie Mac's weekly mortgage rate survey, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage fell to 4.17% last week with 0.7 points. This is the lowest rate-and-points combination in history.

The 5-year ARM fell to 3.08 with 0.5 points.

As mortgage rates fall, though, be wary of trying to "time the market". It's impossible to know when rates have bottomed and mortgage rates tend to spike without notice. That's what happened in May 2010. And then again in November 2010. And then a third time in April 2011.

When rates rise, they could tack on 0.500% or more overnight.

This week, there is a lot that can move mortgage rates. With housing data set for Tuesday release, the Eurozone stories still unfolding, and three Treasury auctions planned, it's best to be ready for locking.

If you're floating a mortgage rate or still shopping, consider locking your rate as soon as possible. Rates trended higher to close out last week and will be riding that momentum forward. Rates are lower than they've been in history.

Take advantage of it.


Mortgage Rates Don't Move With The Fed Funds Rate

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 Kennesaw 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.


What Perks Does Your Favorite Credit Card Offer?

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 Georgia 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.


Housing Starts Tick Lower; Building Permits Tick Higher

Housing Starts 2009-2011Single-Family Housing Starts fell to a seasonally-adjusted, annualized 425,000 units in July, according to the Census Bureau.

A "Housing Start" is defined as a home on which construction has started and ground has broken.

Furthermore, Single-Family Housing Starts were revised lower for both May and June of this year, by 6,000 units and 2,000 units, respectively.

The data may be worthless, however.

Like in most months, the government's official report states that the Housing Starts numbers have a margin of error exceeding their actual measurement. Mathematically, this renders the data statistically irrelevant.

  • July Published Results : +4.9%
  • July Margin of Error : ±8.9%

In other words, July Housing Starts made have increased by as much as 13.8%, or they may have dropped up to 4.0%. We won't know for certain until several months from now, when the Census Bureau gathers more data.

Regardless, the trend in Housing Starts has been flat since last summer. July's reading is in-line with the 12-month average and, not surprisingly, New Home Sales have been mostly flat over the same time span.

Also included in the Housing Starts report is the Building Permits tally. As compared to June, permits were higher by a half-percent nationwide, with varying results by region.

  • Northeast : +2.9 percent from June
  • Midwest : +0.0 percent from June
  • South : -1.4 percent from June
  • West : +4.9 percent from June

When permits are issued, 86 percent of them start construction within 60 days. This means that new home sales and housing stock should follow the Building Permits trend, but on a 2-month delay.

Expect improvement into the fall season.


Homebuilders Expect A Soft Winter Housing Market

Homebuilder confidence 2009-2011

Two months after posting their worst confidence reading of 2011, home builders say they foresee no improvement in the immediate- or medium-term market for new homes nationwide.

In August, for the second straight month, the Housing Market Index read 15.

The HMI is a monthly housing survey, published by the National Association of Homebuilders. It's scored on a scale of 1-100 with readings over 50 suggesting favorable home builder conditions. Readings under 50 suggest unfavorable conditions.

The Housing Market Index has been below the 50-point benchmark since 2006.

To calculate the HMI, home builders are asked 3 separate questions, each addressing the different element of the new home sales business.

  1. How are today's market conditions for the sale of new homes?
  2. How do you expect market conditions to be 6 months from now?
  3. How are the current foot traffic of prospective buyers?

Based on the August answers to these questions, builders are witnessing an improvement with the current market, partially fueled by low mortgage rates, but expect momentum to fade into early-2012.

As a home buyer in Atlanta , this may bode well for you. If you can wait to buy a home, you may find builders more willing to concede on price or upgrades.

The other side of that conversation, though, is that while you may save money on the home, you may lose it in your monthly payments. Rising mortgage rates can quickly zap your savings -- adding tens of thousands in interest costs to your budget long-term.

For now, home prices remain low and mortgage rates do, too. Home affordability is at an all-time high. Take advantage of what the market gives you.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : August 15, 2011

Fed Funds Rates August 2011Mortgage markets improved again last week. The combination of global economic uncertainty plus a dour outlook from the Federal Reserve pushed mortgage bonds to highs for 2011, and drove mortgage rates below their all-time lows.

Bonds were volatile, driven by the stock market's gyrations.

On 4 consecutive days, the Dow Jones Industrial Average moved by more than 400 points. Rate shoppers in Georgia had no choice but to go along for the ride. 

The week began with the market's reaction to Standard & Poor's U.S. credit rating downgrade. Mortgage bonds caught a boost on the news, and pushing rates lower throughout the day. 

Tuesday, rates idled ahead of the Federal Open Market Committee meeting. There was speculation that the Federal Reserve would introduce a new round of economic stimulus but that didn't happen. Instead, the Fed pledged to keep the Fed Funds Rate in its current range near zero percent until mid-2013, at least.

Mortgage rates dropped on the announcement and continued to drop until they fell to their lowest levels of the year -- and of all-time -- late Wednesday afternoon.

This proved to be the lowest rates of the week.

Thursday and Friday were marked by better-than-expected jobless figures and an improving Retail Sales number. Mortgage rates rose slightly.

This week, mortgage rates should be equally as volatile. 

In addition to new bailout talks within the Eurozone, there is a bevy of economic data due for release in the U.S., as well as a full Fed speaker docket:

  • Monday : Homebuilder Confidence Survey; Fed President Lockhart speaks
  • Tuesday : Housing Starts; Building Permits
  • Wednesday : Producer Price Index; Fed President Fisher speaks
  • Thursday : Existing Home Sales; Fed President Dudley speaks
  • Friday : Fed President Pianalto speaks

Mortgage rates have been trending lower in recent weeks and there are few reasons to think that trend will reverse. However, mortgage markets can be wildly unpredictable -- especially when acted upon by an outside force such as the Federal Reserve or the U.S. government.

Stimulus and rheotoric can change mortgage rates in a hurry.

Therefore, if you see today's rates and they fit within your budget, consider locking something in. Once rates start to rise, they're going to rise quickly. 


Foreclosures Sink To 4-Year Low

Foreclosure concentration July 2011Foreclosure activity continues to slow.

According to RealtyTrac, a national foreclosure-tracking firm, the number of foreclosure filings nationwide fell 35 percent as compared to July 2010, a statistic suggesting that the housing market continues to improve.

"Foreclosure filing" is a catch-all term encompassing default notices, scheduled auctions, and bank repossessions.

Filings fell to a 44-month low in July 2011.

For all the improvement, though, activity remains concentrated in just a few states. More than half of all bank repossessions last month occurred in just a handful of states.

In July, 6 states accounted for 52% of activity.

  1. California : 19% of all repossessions
  2. Georgia : 8% of all repossessions
  3. Florida : 7% of all repossessions
  4. Texas : 6% of all repossessions
  5. Michigan : 6% of all repossessions
  6. Arizona : 6% of all repossessions

At the other end of the spectrum is Vermont. With just 11 repossessions for all of July, Vermont accounted for 0.016% of repossessions nationwide.

Distressed homes are in high demand with today's home buyers. According to the National Association of REALTORS®, they account for 30% of all home resales. That's no surprise, either.

Distressed homes typically sell at 20 percent discounts as compared to non-distressed ones.

But, if buying a foreclosure is in your agenda, be sure to do your homework. Buying bank-owned homes is different from buying from "people". The contracts are different, the negotiations are different, and the homes are sometimes sold with defects.

If you plan to purchase a foreclosure in Marietta , therefore, be sure to speak with a licensed real estate agent first. There's plenty of available information online but when it's time to buy, have an experienced agent on your side.


Strong Job Growth In July Trumped By Credit Downgrade

Non-Farm Payrolls Aug 2009-July 2011More Americans are getting back to work.

The latest Non-Farm Payrolls survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 117,000 net new jobs were created in July, thumping analyst estimates and surprising Wall Street investors.

In addition, May and June's originally-reported figures were both revised higher:

  • May 2011 was revised higher by 28,000 jobs
  • June 2011 was revised higher by 28,000 jobs

The national Unemployment Rate slipped to 9.1 percent.

The jobs report's strong readings would typically be a boon to stock market and a threat to mortgage rates. This is because more employed Americans means more disposable income spent on products and services; and more taxes paid to governments at the federal, state and local level.

This combination fuels consumer spending and supports new job growth, a self-reinforcing cycle that spurs economic growth and often to draw investors into equities.

This month, however, the market reaction has been decidedly different.

Since the Friday release of the July Non-Farm Payrolls report, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has lost close to 6 percent of its value. Furthermore, mortgage bonds -- which typically sink on a strong jobs figure -- have thrived.

High demand for mortgage-backed bonds have pushed mortgage rates below their all-time lows set last November; the biggest cause of which is Standard & Poor's credit downgrade of U.S. government-issued debt.

Ironically, the credit rating downgrade sparked a surge of safe haven bidding that has been tremendous to rate shoppers and home buyers in Atlanta and nationwide. Bond buyers are flocking to the U.S.

If you've been shopping for a mortgage, therefore, or recently bought a home, use this week's action to your advantage. Call your lender and ask about rates. You may be surprised at what you find.


A Simple Explanation Of The Federal Reserve Statement (August 9, 2011 Edition)

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 7-3 — the first time in 5 meetings that the nation's Central Bank was non-unanimous and the first time since 1992 that the FOMC adjourned with as many as three dissenters.

In its press release, the FOMC had little good to say about the U.S. economy, noting that since its last meeting in July:

  1. Growth has been "considerably slower" than expected
  2. Labor market conditions have deteriorated
  3. Household spendng has "flattened"

The Fed also noted that the housing sector remains depressed.

On the positive side, the Fed said that business investment in equipment and software continues to expand, and that energy costs have dropped and no longer contribute to inflationary pressures on the economy.

In fact, the Fed worries that inflation may be running too low for the country's good.

To that end, the Federal Reserve has pledged to keep the Fed Funds Rate in its current range near 0.000 percent "at least until mid-2013". This is a departure from prior statements in which the Fed gave no such date.

Mortgage market reaction to the FOMC statement has been positive this afternoon. Mortgage rates in Georgia are improving, but note that sentiment can shift quickly -- especially in a market as uncertain as this one.

If today's mortgage rates look good in your household budget, consider locking in a rate.

The FOMC's next scheduled meeting is September 20, 2011.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : August 8, 2011

FOMC meeting on TuesdayMortgage markets were especially volatile last week, taking rate shoppers in Georgia on a roller-coaster ride. The week's news schedule was full. It included debt ceiling debates, jobs figures, and ongoing maneuverings within the Eurozone.

Each story a material impact on mortgage rates and, as a result, rates varied wildly from day-to-day.

Throughout the early part of the week, mortgage rates fell.

Monday, bond markets improved as leaks of the congressional debt ceiling agreement surfaced. Investors approved of the accord's general terms and bought U.S.-backed debt to prove it. Tuesday, when the final agreement was reached and the terms were made public, mortgage rates dropped again.

This is because the debt ceiling agreement is based on spending cuts and tax increases. In response, analysts revised lower their respective growth estimates for the United States, benefitting bonds.

By Thursday, markets were in full rally mode.

On the eve of the July jobs report, traders flocked to the ultra-safe bond market; "whispers" put the net jobs created figure at a negative. Wall Street feared the worst. By Thursday's close, mortgage pricing was at its best levels since November 2010.

Friday morning, though, markets recoiled. When the Non-Farm Payrolls report showed much-better-than-expected growth, it triggered a bond market sell-off and rates reversed higher. Rates rose more Friday than on any single day since November 30, 2010.

If you were quoted a mortgage rate on Thursday, on Friday, the same mortgage rate cost 1 discount point more.

This week, rates may rise or fall -- it's too soon to tell. 

Friday afternoon, after markets closed, S&P downgraded the long-term debt of the U.S. government a notch. Typically, lower credit ratings means higher borrowing costs which leads to higher mortgage rates, among other things. However, it's unclear how markets will react to the S&P decision.

Plus, the Federal Open Market Committee meets Tuesday and that, too, can affect markets.

As always, the prudent move is to lock your mortgage rate if its payment and terms are sensible. There's too much volatility to know what markets might do tomorrow.


Mortgage Rates Make New 2011 Lows

Freddie Mac mortgage rates

Mortgage rates in Georgia plunged to new 2011 lows this week. 

According to Freddie Mac's weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey, the national, average 30-year fixed rate mortgage fell to 4.39% this week -- the lowest 30-year fixed reading since November 18, 2010.

The 0.16 drop from last week is the largest one-week rate drop in more than 2 years, and, although the 30-year fixed remains above its all-time lows from November 2010, two other benchmark products made new records this week.

Both the 15-year fixed rate mortgage and the 5-year ARM are reporting lower than at any time in recorded history.

Freddie Mac puts those average rates at 3.54% and 3.18%, respectively.

Mortgage rates are dropping for several reasons, including :

  • U.S. economic growth is slower-than-expected
  • The U.S. government plans to curb its spending
  • Global investors seek the safety of U.S.-backed bonds

The first two items are unfavorable for business and, as a result, stock markets have sold off all week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average posted an 8-day losing streak and Thursday it made its biggest one-day loss since 2008.

When equities lose, bonds tend to gain. This leads mortgage rates lower.

Mortgage rates also fell on "safe haven" buying; bond buys made because of their relative safety to risky assets. Mortgage bonds are considered "safe" so when economies and geopolitics are uncertain, mortgage rates improve.

Going forward, there are reasons for mortgage rates to fall again. The economy won't rebound overnight and neither will investor confidence. However, markets can be fickle and rates have been known to reverse quickly.

With rates as low as they've been history, it's an advantageous time to refinance your home loan, or purchase a new property.


Closing At The Start Of September? Watch Out For Labor Day.

Plan ahead for Labor Day closingsHome sales have heated up, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

More homes are going under contract this summer than went during the winter or spring seasons. Many of these homes are scheduled for late-August/early-September closings. 

If your home is among them, plan ahead. 

Like for the rest of the U.S. workforce, Labor Day is a popular vacation time in the real estate, title and mortgage industries. Closings come together more slowly when the parties involved are on holiday. In addition, when issues arise, they are often slower to resolve because not everyone is "present". 

Therefore, if you're under contract to buy or sell your home, or have a refinance in-process with a lender, get proactive with your home and your loan. Finalize your approval as quickly as possible.

Here are some tips to help your loan clear faster:

  1. Prepay your first year of homeowners insurance, effective your closing date. Provide proof of payment to your lender.
  2. Document and deposit all gifts and retirement withdrawals to be used at your closing as early in the process as possible.
  3. Get Power of Attorney forms signed by all parties, and lender-approved, if applicable.
  4. When your lender makes a paperwork request, fulfill the request within 24 hours.

There are steps you can take to make your closing go more smoothly, too.

First, if your transaction is purchase, don't leave your walk-through for the last-minute. Schedule it for as early as reasonable. This way, if there's an issue, there's ample time to resolve it. Remember, it's harder to solve problems when one or more parties to the transaction is away on vacation.

Second, if you have planned time off between now and your closing, make it known, and be reachable in the event of emergency by phone, email or both.

Lastly, if possible, avoid scheduling your closing for the Friday before Labor Day or the Tuesday after. Real estate, title and lender offices are notoriously short-staffed and overworked on these two days. Routine tasks take longer than usual.

You can't stop people from going on vacation, but you can plan for it. It would be foolish not to.


A Mortgage Rate Strategy For July's Jobs Report

Net new jobs, 3-month rolling average 2000-2011

At 8:30 AM ET Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will release the July 2011 Non-Farm Payrolls report. Mark it in your calendar. If you've been watching mortgage rates fall to new all-time lows this week and fear a mortgage rate reversal, Friday could be the day.

The monthly Non-Farm Payrolls data can swing a big stick in mortgage markets.

More commonly called "the jobs report", Non-Farm Payrolls details the U.S. workforce, providing sector-by-sector analysis of workforce, as well as the national Unemployment Rate. 

The jobs report affects mortgage rates because of how important jobs are to the U.S. economy.

When there are more working Americans:

  1. There's more consumer spending, a boost to businesses
  2. There's more tax collection, a boost to governments
  3. There's more personal savings, a boost to households

In July, analysts anticipate 85,000 new jobs created. This would be a 4-fold increase from June's 18,000 figure.

The Unemployment Rate is expected to remain unchanged at 9.2%.

For rate shoppers and home buyers in Georgia , these Wall Street expectations can be as important as the actual data itself. Right now, traders placing bets, expecting 85,000 new jobs in July. If the final tally is more than 85,000, traders will load up on equities at the expense of bonds. This is because job growth is good for the economy.

When bonds sell off, rates rise.

Conversely, if jobs growth is less than 85,000, mortgage rates should drop.

Mortgage rates are near all-time lows this morning. By Friday, they could rise. The safe move is to lock your rate today. Rates may fall when the jobs report is released, but there's much more room for rates to rise.


What Will The Debt Ceiling Agreement Do To Mortgage Rates?

Debt ceiling debate resolutionThe United States is projected to reach its legal $14.294 trillion debt limit today. The limit was set by Congress February 12, 2010. The U.S. Treasury may not issue new debt beyond the debt ceiling.

Since April 2011, Congress has debated ways to remain below the nation's $14.292 trillion borrowing limit. The debate commenced with the passage of the 2011 U.S. Federal Budget which featured a $1.645 trillion deficit.

This multi-trillion dollar deficit ensured that the debt ceiling would be touched at some point during the current fiscal year.

That date was May 16. It took an intervention from the Treasury Secretary to temporarily extend the limits; an "extraordinary measure" meant to keep the U.S. government from defaulting on its debt.

With additional room to borrow, then, the U.S. Treasury's new debt ceiling date was moved to August 2. Congress has been debating the federal budget since mid-May with the dual-goal of (1) Remaining below the federal debt limit, and (2) Creating a budgetary surplus for the future.

An agreement is expected today.

For home buyers and rate shoppers in Marietta , this is an important development. The debt ceiling agreement will influence mortgage markets and, as a result, require amendments to home affordability calculations. As mortgage rates change, your purchasing power does, too.

Unfortunately, we don't know in which direction mortgage rates will go.

Since the prospect of a deal was first hinted Friday, mortgage rates have been improving. Conforming, 30-year fixed rates are down nearly 0.250 percent, lowering a $150,000 mortgage payment by $22 per month.

The final deal terms of a deal, however, could lead rates higher.

As always, the safest play is to lock your mortgage rate if you are comfortable with its proposed payment. Yes, mortgage rates may move lower in the future but, then again, maybe they'll move higher.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : August 1, 2011

Jobs report will move mortgage ratesMortgage markets improved last week as the U.S. debt ceiling debate continued on Capitol Hill. Bonds traded in a range Monday through Thursday before breaking higher Friday morning.

30-year fixed conforming mortgage rates improved in Georgia last week, falling to levels just north the product's all-time low set in November 2010.

5-year ARMs improved last week, too. The benchmark adjustable-rate mortgage's average national rate is now tied with its all-time low, also set last November.

This week, the direction of mortgage rates depends on two events:

  1. The resolution of the U.S. debt ceiling debate, due Tuesday
  2. The July Non-Farm Payrolls report, due Friday

Mortgage rates will be volatile as markets grapple with the expectations for the above events, and their eventual outcomes. 

Sunday evening, for example, congressional leaders reached an agreement to raise the U.S. debt ceiling by $2.1 trillion, and to introduce $2.5 trillion in budget cuts within 10 years. The deal must pass Congress, however, and until it does, speculation will push mortgage rates around.

Friday's jobs report should swing mortgage rates, too. 

After starting the year strong, the 2011 jobs market has faded. Net new jobs have dropped 5 months in the row and the national Unemployment Rate is climbing. Weak job growth portends weak consumer spending and a weak economy -- typically two outcomes that are good for mortgage rates. 

Because of doubt cast by the debt ceiling debate, though, it's too soon to know how Wall Street will react to the jobs data -- strong or weak.

For now, mortgage rates remain low. They may fall further, or they may not. The "safe bet" is to lock.