Julie C. Nichols General

Fed and Data Benefit Rates
Over the past week, comments from Fed officials and weaker than expected economic data were positive for mortgage rates. After rising for the last two weeks, mortgage rates ended this week lower.
Every six months, the head of the U.S. Fed testifies before Congress. In her testimony on Wednesday, nearly all of Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s comments simply reiterated what had already been communicated by Fed officials. However, she did provide one new piece of information regarding future Fed policy which caused a significant reaction. Yellen said that the Fed would not have to raise the federal funds rate "all that much further" to reach a "neutral policy stance," which is the rate which neither helps nor hinders economic growth. The practical implication of a lower "neutral" rate is that the Fed would stop raising rates sooner than investors had previously expected. A potentially smaller number of future rate hikes was viewed as good news for mortgage rates.

A shortfall in the retail sales and inflation data released on Friday also was positive for mortgage rates. Excluding the volatile auto component, retail sales in June declined for the second straight month, while the consensus was for a modest increase. This was the first period of back-to-back monthly declines since July and August of last year.
The inflation data also fell short of expectations. The core consumer price index (CPI), which excludes food and energy, remained well below the Fed’s target level of 2.0%. Expectations for another rate hike by the Fed this year declined after the release of the retail sales and inflation data.
Looking ahead, the biggest event for U.S. markets next week likely will be the European Central Bank meeting on Thursday. While ECB officials have already said that they will wait for the meeting on September 7 to announce their plans for the bond purchase program, any guidance at this meeting about future policy will affect markets around the world. It will be a light week for U.S. economic data. The NAHB housing sentiment index will be released on Tuesday. Housing Starts will come out on Wednesday. The Philadelphia Fed regional manufacturing index will be released on Friday.

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