Where Do Mortgage Interest Rates Go Absent The Fed Training Wheels?

foreclosure

No one covers the residential housing market like Calculated Risk and he has been doing a great job of following what appears to be mounting concern about the Fed withdrawing from the MBS market. Tonight he has a compendium of thoughts on the subject, all verging more or less on terror at the prospect.

I’ll let you click over there to take a quick glance at the various concerns. For his part, the blog’s author has been pretty steadfast in his belief that when the Fed does withdraw the impact on interest rates is going to be in the neighborhood of 35 basis points. Disagreeing with him is perilous business but in this case, I think he might be too optimistic.

Obviously, the impact is not one that will occur in isolation but will be influenced by the general state of the bond market, inflation expectations and the general state of the housing market, particularly the outlook for further foreclosures. Having said that, I think that it could easily push rates up by 50 to 100 bps.

There hasn’t been an established market for residential MBS since the bottom fell out of everything and there seems little reason to suppose that investors, especially overseas investors, are going to rush back into the market absent some fairly generous risk premium. It’s not like there is a dearth now or for the foreseeable future of US government securities which carry less baggage than MBS.

Specifically, the value of the implicit guarantee could be substantially diminished were the economy to start heading in the wrong way thus necessitating further deficit accumulation. It’s an Armageddon scenario that the US would find itself so strapped for financing that it stopped honoring anything other than direct obligations of the government but, if we’ve learned anything the past couple of years it is that what once seemed beyond possible isn’t necessarily so.

I do agree with Calculated Risk’s assessment that the Fed will at least try exiting the program and will bounce right back in if things go awry. At the very least, it’s going to be a great test of the degree to which the markets have returned to normal and give us a pretty good handle as to whether the mortgage market in this country can stand on its own feet or is going to be a socialized segment of the economy for a number of years.

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