Mortgage rates have been steadily climbing, from a low of 4.5% around November 27, 2009 to above 5% on December 22, 2009. For the past two months I've been warning that this will eventually happen. It's not because the economy is recovering; it isn't recovering. The reason mortgage rates will rise to 6% or above, sooner rather than later is because that is the "natural" market.
About a year ago, the Federal Reserve announced a $1.25 Trillion mortgage rates subsidy, by purchasing mortgage-backed securities in the open market, through March, 2010. Right before the subsidy was announced, mortgage rates were at or above 6%. The subsidy was referred to as Bernanke's "nuclear option" meaning he was using an extraordinary monetary stimulus to keep mortgage rates artificially low.
One year and 12 months into the 15-month game, we're at $1.07 Trillion spent on this open market MBS purchase program. This means that the Fed still has about $150 Billion to spend in three months, so mortgage rates should stay around 5%, right? After all, the Fed only spent $80 billion/month and they have at least 2 months of money left.
Markets are discounting mechanisms meaning that traders anticipate how potent the Fed can be. The Fed is just about out of bullets and MBS traders know it. Let me try to give you an example of what the Fed did by recanting the explanation I gave, to a Del Mar Realtor, on the beach this summer.
I had my daughter (Maggie) get me ten cups of water from the ocean. Then I drew six lines in the sand, equidistant from each other, and labeled them 6% (on the right) through 4.5% (on the left). I had Maggie stand at 6% and explained that this represented Dec, 2008 mortgage rates. I announced that my intention was to throw water at her until she moved to the left, away from 6% and towards 4.5%. I grabbed two cups and threw one at her, then at the line marked 5.5%; Maggie quickly darted to the left.
Then, I threw a cup at her every time she inched to the right. I explained that Maggie was acting EXACTLY like the MBS traders, naturally gravitating towards the "natural" market. Each time I chucked a cup full of "stimulus", Maggie moved back under 5% and closer to 4.5%. Once, she got real daring (like the MBS market this past summer) and I threw three cups at her.
At the beginning of December, The Fed had two cups of water. Now, they only have 1.5 cups of stimulus left.
Maggie, knowing that I only had 1-2 cups left, knew she could afford to get a bit wet in her dart towards 6%. She faked me by jumping like Rickey Henderson dances off first base; I threw a half cup of water at her. Then, she defiantly and purposefully walked towards 6%, knowing full well that I would throw my last cup of water at her.
Maggie knew she might get a bit wet but that I was utterly and completely out of water. She got sprinkled but was safely standing at 6% and I was as bone dry as the Sonoran desert in July.
That's what I think is happening today. The MBS traders are purposefully selling mortgage-backed securities, knowing that the Fed will buy every last bond they offer until they are "bone dry". Everybody is running towards the finish line (6%) now and they don't care how wet they get along the way.
Mortgage rates are headed to 6% and it probably won't take until March, 2010 for them to get there.