The Trump Effect on Mortgage Rates

photo by Sergiu Bacioiu

The Christian Science Monitor quoted me in What Does President Trump Really Mean for Mortgage Rates? It opens,

In the week following the election, mortgage rates soared nearly half a percentage point. Average weekly 30-year fixed home loan rates are back above 4% for the first time since July 2015.

Here’s a three-minute read on the Trump Effect — past, present and future — on mortgage rates.

What happened to mortgage rates right after the election

Investors sold bonds on President-elect Donald Trump’s stated goals to lower taxes, boost deregulation and make massive infrastructure investments. A growing economy fueled by government spending could trigger higher inflation, which is a concern for the bond market.

As bond prices fell from the sell-off, yields rose. Higher bond yields equal higher mortgage rates. is happening with mortgage rates now

What is happening with mortgage rates now

Rates are already taking a breath. After a quick run-up following the election,  30-year mortgage rates are generally holding steady, near 4%.

What will happen to mortgage rates in 2017

The Federal Reserve this week reaffirmed its intention to begin raising short-term interest rates, most likely beginning in December. Following that hike, if it happens, the U.S. central bank’s policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee is looking to manage a slow climb in rates.

“The FOMC continues to expect that the evolution of the economy will warrant only gradual increases in the federal funds rate over time to achieve and maintain maximum employment and price stability,” Fed Chair Janet Yellen told Congress on Nov. 17. Those moves will influence longer-term rates such as on mortgages to rise as well.

And there’s another potential trigger for mortgage rates to move higher.

While Trump hasn’t taken a stance yet, Republican party leaders have been vocal about getting the government out of the mortgage business. That could mean redefining the role of the Federal Housing Administration and moving Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to the private sector.

David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, concentrates on real estate finance and community development. He sees the Republican agenda to “reduce the government’s footprint in the mortgage market” as a possible catalyst to higher mortgage rates in the future.

“You put the government’s stamp of approval on companies like Fannie and Freddie, and it lowers interest rates because they can borrow at a lower rate — but then the taxpayers are on the hook if things go south, and that was the case in 2008,” Reiss tells NerdWallet. “If you reduce the federal government’s role in the housing markets, you’re going to reduce the likelihood of future bailouts by taxpayers. That’s the trade-off.”

The Housing Market Under Trump

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TheStreet.com quoted me in Interest Rates Likely to Rise Under Trump, Could Affect Confidence of Homebuyers. It opens,

Interest rates should increase gradually during the next four years under a Donald Trump administration, which could dampen growth in the housing industry, economists and housing experts predict.

The 10-year Treasury rose over the 2% threshold on Wednesday for the first time in several months, driving mortgage rates higher with the 30-year conventional rate rising to 3.73% according to Bankrate.com. Mortgage pricing is tied to the 10-year Treasury.

Housing demand will remain flat with a rise in interest rates as many first-time homebuyers will be saddled with more debt, said Peter Nigro, a finance professor at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I.

“With first-time homebuyers more in debt due to student loans, I don’t expect much growth in home purchasing,” he said.

Interest rates will also be affected by the size of the fiscal stimulus since additional infrastructure spending and associated debt “could push interest rates up through the issuance of more government debt,” Nigro said.

Even if interest rates spike in the next year, banks will not benefit, because there is a lack of demand, said Peter Borish, chief strategist with Quad Group, a New York-based financial firm. The economy is slowing down, and consumers have already borrowed money at very “cheap” interest rates, he said.

The policies set forth by a Trump administration will lead to contractionary results and will not spur additional growth in the housing market.

“I prefer to listen to the markets,” Borish said. “This will put downward pressure on the prices in the market. Everyone complained about Dodd-Frank, but why is JPMorgan Chase’s stock at all time highs?”

An interest rate increase could still occur in December, said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Realtor.com, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based real estate company. With nearly five weeks before the December Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, the market can contemplate the potential outcomes.

“While the market is now indicating a reduced probability of a short-term rate hike at that meeting, the Fed has repeatedly indicated that they would be data-driven in their decision,” he said in a written statement. “If the markets calm down and November employment data look solid on December 2, a rate hike could still happen. The market moves yesterday are already indicating that financial markets are pondering that the Trump effect could be positive for the economy.

“The Fed is likely to start increasing the federal funds rate at a “much faster pace starting next year,” said K.C. Sanjay, chief economist for Axiometrics, a Dallas-based apartment market and student housing research firm. “This will cause single-family mortgage rates to increase slightly, however they will remain well below the long-term average.”

Since Trump has remained mum on many topics, including housing, predicting a short-term outlook is challenging. One key factor is the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who are the main players in the mortgage market, because they own or guarantee over $4 trillion in mortgages, remain in conservatorship and “play a critical role in keeping mortgage rates down through the now explicit subsidy or government backing which allows them to raise funds more cheaply,” Nigro said.

It is unlikely any changes will occur with them, because “Trump has not articulated a plan to deal with them and coming up with a plan to deal with these giants is unlikely,” he said.

Trump could attempt to take on government sponsored enterprises such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, said Ralph McLaughlin, chief economist for Trulia, a San Francisco-based real estate website.

“If he does, it’s going to be a hairy endeavor for him, because he’ll need bipartisan support to do so,” he said.

Since he has alluded to ending government conservatorship and allowing government sponsored enterprises to “recapitalize by allowing retention of their own profits instead of passing them on to the Treasury,” the result is that banks could have their liquidity and lending activity increase, which could help boost demand for homes, McLaughlin said.

“We caution President-elect Trump that he would also need to simultaneously help address housing supply, which has been at a low point over the past few years,” he said. “The difficulty for him is that most of the impediments to new housing supply rest and the state and local levels, not the federal.”

Even on Trump’s campaign website, there is “next to nothing” about his ideas on housing, said David Reiss, a law professor at the Brooklyn Law School in New York. The platform of the Republican Party and Vice President-elect Mike Pence could mean that the federal government will have a smaller footprint in the mortgage market.

“There will be a reduction in the federal government’s guaranty of mortgages, and this will likely increase the interest rates charged on mortgages, but will reduce the likelihood of taxpayer bailouts,” he said. “Fannie and Freddie will likely have fewer ties to the federal government and the FHA is likely to be limited to the lower end of the mortgage market.”