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Short Week, Tall Problems for Rates

May 31, 2024

This past week interest rates moved sharply higher in response to a host of unfriendly bond news. Let's discuss what happened and what to watch for in the weeks ahead.

We Need More Revenue

This past week was shortened due to the Memorial Day holiday, but it was filled with tall problems which caused rates to spike. It all started on the Friday before Memorial Day when Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told the world that the path for rates is higher, and we need more revenue.

This was an important statement as it highlights our deficit spending and our need to sell more treasury debt to fund our government.

The debt sales were tested this past week and ended up being a main driver for the spike higher in interest rates. The Treasury sold $183B worth of 2,5 and 7-yr Notes and the auction results were poor where buyers demanded higher interest rates to purchase all the debt. As Treasury yields move higher, mortgage-backed security prices drop, thereby elevating home loan rates.

Higher For Longer

Since the Fed Meeting back on May 1st, where the Fed Chair Powell said they are not hiking or cutting rates, many officials have since been pouring cold water on the idea that a rate cut is coming soon.

This past week, we heard comments like "Don't count out a rate hike" as the next move and "higher indefinitely" was uttered by another Fed official. This means those betting on a rate cut soon might want to reassess their position as the chance for the first cut has now been pushed back to November. And as we have seen over the last year or so, if inflation remains stubbornly high, we may not see a cut at all in 2024.

Higher Oil

Yet another problem for interest rates and the overall economy is energy prices. Oil hit $80 a barrel last week. This is significant as oil and 30-year mortgage rates tend to ebb and flow together. When oil prices edge higher so do mortgage rates. Why?

High oil prices are inflationary. If inflation readings remain near current levels or even edge higher, there is no way the Fed can cut interest rates which means higher for longer.

Consumer Sentiment Moves Higher

Bonds hate inflation, bonds hate more bonds and bonds hate good news. Despite the uncertainty about higher interest rates and elevated oil prices, the consumer sentiment reading last week was an upside surprise as people felt a bit more optimistic - breaking a trend of recent pessimism.

Bottom line: We should take the Fed at its word that rates will be higher for longer. Deficit spending and high energy prices will help fuel this notion. 

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