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Coronavirus vs Interest Rates

coronavirus

It started in early March when, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Saudi Arabia and Russia initiated an oil price war – tumbling prices by 34% (down to $31.73 per barrel). Today this price war continues, with crude at only $20.71 per barrel. The pandemic and oil price combination has sent the stock market into a tailspin. With equity investors continuing their flight to safe-haven holdings, the DJIA has dropped almost 30% from the Feb. 12 high of 29,551.

Although 10-Year Treasuries (the rate that typically sets the direction of fixed mortgage rates) have averaged 2.27% over the past 5 years, a record low 0.318% 10-Year yield was recently reached.

But if mortgage rates usually reduce when investors flee the stock market, why did 30-year fixed mortgage rates increase from 3.15% to as high as 4.15% during this commotion???

For several reasons due to huge uncertainty, volatility and panic – all of which increased costs to lenders… which in turn were passed on to borrowers in the form of higher mortgage rates:

  • Profits to mortgage servicing companies (who manage borrowers’ monthly payments and escrows for lenders) reduced after many mortgages were repaid/refinanced early – i.e., servicing fees to lenders increased due to uncertainty regarding underlying value and content of their serviced mortgage portfolios
  • Pools of residential mortgages (mortgage-backed securities/MBS’s) became difficult to value given the higher probability of default or forbearance – so some investors are paying less to (or have stopped buying from) the lenders who are selling mortgages
  • Lenders, who promised rate locks to borrowers and sell their loans to investors after closing, are having to pay higher fees to hedge against rising rates (to protect loan value), and are subjected to margin calls when the value of their collateral reduces from Federal Reserve Treasury Bond purchases

Here's the Point: In a market with unprecedented volatility, there are several reasons why mortgage rates actually go in a direction opposite to what you might expect.