Mortgage Rates (Inflation vs Recession)

I see articles about interest rates going down every time I scan the business news. Either the Federal Reserve just cut rates or Wall Street is demanding further cuts. Yet after briefly going down, mortgage rates are again on the rise. What gives?

Recession vs Inflation

The key to this mystery is that mortgage rates are based on long-term interest rates (like the 10-year Treasury rate) rather than the short term rates that Federal Reserve influences. Short-term and long-term rates often move in the same direction, but not always. And our current economic environment is an example of when they go their separate ways.

The US economy is at a crossroads. Growth is slowing and the talking heads cannot agree about whether we are headed towards a recession or something far less serious. This debate is important because it plays a big role in the direction of the long-term interest rates, and therefore the mortgage rates.

With the Federal Reserve aggressively cutting short-term rates, they are signaling that they believe a recession is the biggest risk and are working hard to avoid it. If they are correct, then consumer and business spending will continue to fall and the low interest rates will be an important factor in stabilizing and eventually increasing spending. According to this view, the long-term interest rates and mortgage rates should be going down with the short-term rates.

The long-term rates are not going down because enough investors are convinced that the economy is going to make it through this slowdown just fine – they believe that the Fed’s rate cuts are unnecessary. In this scenario the low short-term rates cause spending to increase too quickly, which puts upward pressure on prices (like gas and food), leading to general inflation.

So if you are planning to buy a home in today’s environment and are looking for a better rate, you want to cheer every time someone mentions recession. As crazy as that sounds.