The primary influences on mortgage rates this week came from outside the U.S. Concerns about the pace of global economic growth and uncertainty about British plans for exiting the European Union were favorable for rates, while the U.S. economic data had little impact. The net effect was that mortgage rates ended the week lower.
Investors reduced their outlook for global economic growth this week, partly due to the news that economic output contracted in Germany and Japan during the third quarter. In a speech on Wednesday, Fed Chair Jerome Powell noted the modest slowdown, which he described as a “gradual chipping away”. Since a decline in growth reduces future inflationary pressures, this was good for mortgage rates.
In June 2016, the United Kingdom voted by a narrow margin to leave the European Union (EU). Since then, political leaders in the UK and the EU have been struggling with the difficult task of determining the practical details of the Brexit (British exit from the EU). There remains a high level of disagreement within the UK about the new policies for many fundamental issues such as trade and immigration, and several high level politicians have resigned to express their opposition. Uncertainty generally causes investors to shift to safer assets, including U.S. mortgage-backed securities, and a lack of progress in the negotiations also was positive for mortgage rates this week.
After a couple of disappointing months, retail sales picked up nicely in October. Excluding the volatile auto component, Retail Sales rose a strong 0.7% from September, above the consensus for an increase of 0.5%. This surge in consumer spending was welcome news heading into the holiday season.
The most recent inflation reading matched the expected levels. In October, the core Consumer Price Index (CPI), which excludes food and energy, was 2.1% higher than a year ago, below the annual rate of increase of 2.2% last month, and down from a recent peak of 2.4% in July.
Looking ahead, Housing Starts will be released on Tuesday and Existing Home Sales on Wednesday. Durable Orders, an important indicator of economic activity, also will come out on Wednesday. Mortgage markets will be closed on Thursday and will close early at 2:00 et on Friday for Thanksgiving.