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Mortgage rates plunge just as home prices set another record

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Mortgage rates are sinking as markets contend with the ramifications of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, and that means home prices are likely to continue surging.

The average rate on the popular 30-year fixed mortgage had risen close to a full percentage point from the start of this year up until last Friday, when it hit 4.18%, according to Mortgage News Daily. It then fell to 4.04% Monday and 3.9% on Tuesday. That is the largest two-day drop since March 2020, the start of the pandemic.

This will give homebuyers more purchasing power as the historically busy spring season kicks off. It will also keep record high home prices continuing on their run higher. Prices in January were 19.1% higher year over year, according to a report released Tuesday by CoreLogic. That level of growth is the highest in 45 years, when CoreLogic began tracking prices.

“In December and January, for-sale inventory continued to be the lowest we have seen in a generation,” said Frank Nothaft, chief economist at CoreLogic. “Buyers have continued to bid prices up for the limited supply on the market.”

Nothaft added that the rise in mortgage rates since January eroded buyer affordability, and that price growth should slow in the coming months, but that all depends on how long this drop in rates continues. It could be brief, given the other factors weighing on the mortgage market unrelated to the Ukraine crisis.

Low inventory and high prices lead to lower home-buying traffic and steep competition
Mortgage rates loosely follow the yield of the U.S. 10-year Treasury, which on Tuesday fell to the lowest level since late January. Markets are experiencing volatility because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

For now, the move in Treasurys is causing the pullback in mortgage rates. But mortgage rates are governed more directly by demand for mortgage-backed bonds. Those bonds often mimic the 10-year, but not always, and now is one of those not-always times.

Unlike Treasurys, MBS duration can vary depending on demand for refinancing. A 30-year fixed loan rarely lasts 30 years. If people are refinancing or selling their homes faster, then the bond term doesn’t last as long. Given higher rates now, and more opportunity for refinancing, the current crop of MBS isn’t expected to last much more than five years, according to Matthew Graham, chief operating officer of Mortgage News Daily.

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Over the past three months, 5-year Treasurys have risen 0.10% more than 10-year Treasurys. Because mortgage bonds behave more like the shorter-duration 5-year Treasury note, they’ve had a tougher time keeping pace with the 10-year.

“The outlook for Fed bond buying is also hurting MBS more than Treasuries because the Fed accounts for a larger percentage of total buying demand of new MBS,” Graham said. “So if the Fed leaves (which it is in the process of doing), MBS prices have to fall farther to attract buyers. Lower MBS prices = higher rates, all other things being equal.”

Given geopolitical tensions now, however, there has been more demand for short-term debt, and so mortgage rates are keeping better pace with the broader bond market. The question is how long will that be the case, and the answer depends on what happens in Ukraine and beyond.

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BUSINESS

US stocks suffer biggest daily drop in almost two years

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US stocks posted the biggest daily drop in almost two years as investors assess the impact of higher prices on earnings and prospects for monetary policy tightening on economic growth. The dollar and Treasuries gained amid a pickup in haven bids.

The selloff sent the S&P 500 down 4%, with the plunge in consumer shares surpassing 6%. Target Corp. tumbled more than 20% in its worst rout since 1987, after trimming its profit forecast due to a surge in costs. Shares of retailers from Walmart Inc. to Macy’s Inc. were caught in the downdraft. The Nasdaq 100 fell the most among major benchmarks, dropping more than 5% as growth-related tech stocks sank. Megacaps Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. slid at least 5%.

Treasuries rose across the board, sending the 10- and 30-year Treasury yields down as much as 11 basis points. The dollar rose against all of its Group-of-10 counterparts, except the yen and Swiss franc. Gold caught bids in the move into havens.

The benchmark S&P 500 is emerging from the longest weekly slump since 2011, but any rebounds in risk sentiment are proving fragile amid tightening monetary settings, Russia’s war in Ukraine and China’s Covid lockdowns.

In some of his most hawkish remarks to date, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Tuesday that the US central bank will raise interest rates until there is “clear and convincing” evidence that inflation is in retreat. Chicago Fed President Charles Evans said Wednesday he sees a half-point rate increase at next month’s meeting and “probably thereafter.”

In Europe, new-vehicle sales shrank for a 10th month in a row as the industry remains mired in supply-chain crises, while euro-area inflation plateaued at a record high. Meanwhile, UK inflation rose to its highest level since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister 40 years ago, adding to pressure for action from the government and central bank.

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Netflix lays off 150 employees due to slow revenue growth and business needs

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Netflix is reportedly laying off nearly 150 employees in the coming days due to disappointing earnings and slow revenue growth.

According to a Variety report, the Amazon Prime Video rival might also terminate its contract with contractual contributors.

The layoffs are about 2 per cent of Netflix’s US workforce. “As we explained [in reporting Q1] earnings, our slowing revenue growth means we are also having to slow our cost growth as a company. So sadly, we are letting around 150 employees go today, mostly U.S.-based,” a Netflix spokesperson said.

The statement further revealed that the decision was primarily driven by business needs rather than individual performance. Netflix reported $7.87 billion in Q1, which was short of Wall Street’s estimates of $7.93 billion.

The report further reveals that nearly 70 part-time employees in Netflix’s animation studio will have to pack up and leave. A report by The Verge stated that about 26 contractors working on Netflix’s fan-focused Tudum website might see a termination.

“A number of agency contractors have also been impacted by the news announced this morning. We are grateful for their contributions to Netflix,” the company said.

Netflix, in its recent earnings call, revealed that it lost thousands of subscribers, which is a first for the company in over a decade.

The company expects to lose an additional 2 million in the next quarter due to the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. Netflix has shut shop in Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

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Dollar breaks N600/$ ceiling ahead of party’s presidential primaries

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Less than two weeks to the presidential primaries of the political parties ahead of the 2023 elections, the US dollar has broken the N600/$ mark at the parallel market and set the tone for a possible uptick in the coming days.

The black market rate had traded between N570/$ and N590/$ since the beginning of the year while the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s intervention at the Nigerian Autonomous Foreign Exchange (NAFEX) has kept its rate under N420/$.

With the latest slump of the naira, the arbitrage between the parallel and NAFEX, which is regarded as the official window, is now inching close to N200/$. The spread measures the deviation of the controlled official rate from the real rate of exchange, with experts calling for liberalisation of the market to enable naira to find its true value.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have also warned of the repercussions of sustaining an artificially high naira while calling on the CBN to embark on market reform.

But the CBN has maintained that Nigeria, with the current high level of importation and underperformance of the industrial sector, cannot afford to float the naira completely as the exchange rate could spill out of control.

At the Lagos street market, yesterday, naira traded between N595/$ and N600/$ band. With the presidential primaries of the two leading political parties scheduled for Abuja next weekend, there is an expectation the demand pressure has not peaked, suggesting that naira is in for a protracted pressure.

At peer-to-peer (P2P) trading platforms, the dollar has been trading above N600 in the past three weeks, which had signaled that the black market rate could break through the psychological ceiling.

With that eventually happening, naira could be on a renewed free fall.

But there is also hope that it is a season to offload warehoused hard currencies for political campaigns to possibly shore up supply.

Experts are not sure where rising demand and supply of foreign exchange would lead the naira to, but the interplay between the movements of the two variables is a key factor in predicting the value of the naira in the tense political season. Godwin Owoh, a professor of applied economics, advised Nigerians to prepare for a steeper fall of the local currency, saying partisan politics and intra-party meetings, which are highly dollarised would bring much pressure to bear.

The CBN has promised to continue to protect the naira but its ability could be constrained by the equally falling reserve. For the first time in eight months, the gross reserves dropped below N39 billion on Monday, when CBN data put the figures at N38.92 billion. Effectively, the country’s reserves have depleted by $160 billion year-to-date.

Bismarck Rewane, an economist, had projected the reserve to collapse to $32 billion in the year as he expected the CBN to spend $8 to $10 billion defending the naira, which is taking much pressure from excessive importation.

The value of Nigeria’s imports increased by 64 per cent last year to N20.84 trillion. Sadly, the value of exports increased at a slower rate – 51 per cent – to N18. 91 trillion in the same period. The falling reserves and rising imports have put the apex bank in dire straits in its efforts to continue to defend the naira.

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