Here's Why Mortgage Rates Are Still So High

Here’s Why Mortgage Rates Are Still So High Despite All the Good News on Inflation

August 16, 2023 by 

Despite the fact that promising inflation data has led to expectations that the Fed will cut interest rates soon, mortgage rates remain above 7%. That’s because the 10-year treasury yield is high, which generally means mortgage rates are high, too.

Daily average mortgage rates have hit 7.26%, their highest level since October, driving mortgage-purchase applications down to their lowest level since October. That’s because despite promising inflation data and expectations of the Fed cutting interest rates next year, two other economic factors are counteracting the impact of encouraging inflation news and pushing the 10-year treasury yield up. And when the 10-year treasury yield is high–like it is now–mortgage rates generally remain high, too

First, investors are increasingly worried that the U.S. government has taken on too much debt. The concern is that the U.S. Treasury could issue too much in new treasuries to finance this debt, which would bring down the value of treasury debt and increase bond yields (or interest rates). 

The second factor is related to long-term expectations about the level of interest rates that the Fed would need to maintain to neither stimulate nor slow the economy.  This is known as the real neutral rate of interest –or r-star, in economic jargon.  After the financial crisis, r-star was widely thought to have fallen, explaining why we had a long period of low interest rates and low inflation. Post-pandemic, research has shown that r-star might be rising. Couple that with expectations that the Fed will successfully engineer a soft landing and the result is higher 10-year treasury yields, or higher interest rates.  

Still, it’s possible mortgage rates could decline even if the 10-year treasury remains high. The difference between the 10-year treasury and mortgage rates has been larger than usual in the last year, so there is a chance that mortgage rates could come down without the 10-year treasury coming down if, for example, some buyers of  mortgage debt (e.g. banks) re-enter the market. 

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