Fed Officials Split
Ahead of the holiday weekend, this week’s economic data contained few surprises, and the attacks in Brussels had little impact on U.S. financial markets. As a result, mortgage rates ended the week with little change.
At the Fed meeting on March 16, nine Fed officials voted in favor of holding the federal funds rate steady and just one supported a rate hike. Fed Chair Yellen suggested that the Fed should proceed cautiously in tightening monetary policy to see the effect of overseas weakness on the U.S. economy.
Since the meeting, however, several Fed officials have supported tighter monetary policy, sending a mixed message to investors. These officials feel that the performance of the U.S. economy may justify a rate hike as soon as the next Fed meeting on April 27. Investors will be closely monitoring comments from other Fed officials to determine how much support there is for these more hawkish views.
The headline numbers for February home sales released this week were mixed. Sales of existing homes fell 7% from January, while sales of newly built homes showed an increase of 2%. The details show that the fall in existing home sales was from an elevated January level, and the rise of new home sales was from an unusually low level in January.
Both measures have been volatile lately. An average of home sales over a multiple month period provides a clearer picture of the underlying trend, and the three-month average has shown steady improvement over the last few months.
Looking ahead, mortgage-backed securities (MBS) markets will be closed tomorrow for Good Friday. Next week, the important monthly Employment report will be released on Friday. As usual, this data on the number of jobs, the Unemployment Rate, and wage inflation will be the most highly anticipated economic data of the month. Before that, Pending Home Sales and Core PCE inflation will be released on Monday. The ISM national manufacturing index will come out on Friday.
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