Surprisingly subdued inflation and a general unease about the U.S. and global economies were the driving forces behind the Federal Reserve’s decision to not raise rates in 2019, according to the March Federal Open Market Committee meeting minutes.
Meeting participants noted that growth has definitely slowed, but there are still fundamental factors that point toward sustained expansion, not retraction.
“A majority of participants expected that the evolution of the economic outlook and risks to the outlook would likely warrant leaving the target range unchanged for the remainder of the year,” the minutes said.
While global pressures like the ongoing trade dispute with China and a very messy Brexit continue to cause concern, the Fed is also looking at a potential issue with inflation. There are some members concerned that inflation won’t rise enough to stay at the desired 2% target. Due to the “somewhat softer than expected” inflation readings, the members revised down inflation forecasts “slightly.”
While underlying inflation seems to be steady if not low, consumer prices rose by a fairly significant amount in March. The 0.4% increase in the Labor Department’s Consumer Price Index was the largest uptick since January 2018. Rising gas prices and rent were the two main contributors to the increase.
Meanwhile, the core CPI, which excludes more volatile components like food and energy, rose only slightly. Year-over-year, the core CPI increased by 2.0%, the smallest increase since February 2018.
We saw a similar result with the Producer Price Index. PPI saw its biggest increase in five months, going up by 0.6%, mainly due to higher gas costs. While producer prices did rise, underlying inflation also remained the same for this set of data. Core PPI remained flat in March.
Using this data, combined with the CPI reports, analysts with Goldman Sachs predict the core Personal Consumption Expenditures will have risen about 0.11% bringing it to +1.64% year-over-year. The core PCE is one of the main ways the Fed measures inflation and 1.64% is well under the target goal of 2.0%.
Global economic pressures
Brexit continues to drag on as the deadline has been extended to Oct. 31. President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said in a Tweet, “This means additional six months for the UK to find the best possible solution.” It has been 1,022 days since the initial Brexit referendum on June 23, 2016.
On the other side of the globe, Chinese officials say that trade talks with the United States are moving forward. Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang says there has been “substantial progress” and that they “hope that the two sides can continue to work together to properly address each other’s concerns on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit.”
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the two countries have also agreed on a way to make sure both parties live up to their end of the deal. “We’ve agreed that both sides will establish enforcement offices that will deal with the ongoing matters. So this is something both sides are taking very seriously.”
Time to buy and sell
Fannie Mae’s Home Purchase Sentiment Index took a 5.5 point jump in March to reach its highest point since June of 2018. Increases were seen in the “good time to buy” and “good time to sell” components.
Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae, credits “a brighter housing market outlook” with the increase in home purchase sentiment.
The group buying the most right now? Hispanics. According to data from the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, over the last ten years, the Hispanic demographic has accounted for more than 60% of the nation’s homeownership growth.
In their statement, NAHREP said, “This upward trajectory for Hispanic homeownership is consistent with projections made by the Urban Institute that Hispanics will account for more than half of all new homeowners over the next several years and for 56% of all new homeowners by 2030.”
The only thing that seems to be holding people back is any sort of upward tick in mortgage rates, no matter how small.
A couple of weeks ago rates dropped significantly to a little more than 4.0% on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. Right now, the Freddie Mac average for that same 30-year fixed-rate loan is sitting at 4.12%. But when it inched up ever so slightly leading up to today, a rise of just 0.02%, mortgage applications dropped.
Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association showed the Market Composite Index fell 5.6% from the previous week, despite rates being almost exactly the same.
The Mortgage Applications Survey from the MBA also showed that the Refinance Index also dropped, falling back by 11% from the previous week. MBA Senior Vice President and Chief Economist Mike Fratantoni said, “As quickly as the refinance activity increased in recent weeks, it backed down again in response to the rise in rates.”