This week brings us the release of three monthly reports for the bond market to digest in addition to a Fed-filled day in the middle part of the week. The calendar will kick off mid-morning tomorrow when February’s Industrial Production report is posted at 9:15 AM ET. This report measures manufacturing sector strength by tracking output at U.S. factories, mines and utilities. It is expected to show a 0.3% increase from January’s level. A decline would be considered favorable news for bonds and mortgage rates because it would indicate manufacturing sector weakness and broader economic growth would be more difficult if manufacturing activity is slipping.
February’s Housing Starts data will be released early Tuesday morning. It tracks construction starts of new housing. It doesn’t usually cause much movement in mortgage rates and is considered one of the less important reports we see each month. It is expected to show a decline in housing starts, indicating weakness in the housing sector. Good news for the bond market and mortgage rates would be a sizable decline in new starts, but unless we see a large variance from forecasts the data likely will not lead to a noticeable move in mortgage pricing.
Wednesday is the day with several Fed events scheduled. They start with the 2:00 PM ET adjournment of the two-day FOMC meeting that began Tuesday. It is widely expected that Fed Chair Yellen and company will not change key short-term interest rates at this meeting, although market participants will be watching the post-meeting statement closely for changes in verbiage that could indicate when their first move will take place. Any surprises on this could heavily influence the markets and mortgage rates Wednesday afternoon.
The FOMC meeting is ending a little earlier than the traditional 2:15 PM because it is one of the meetings that will be followed by a press conference with Chairman Yellen. The meeting will adjourn at 2:00 PM while the press conference will begin at 2:30 PM and will probably lead to afternoon volatility in the markets and mortgage rates Wednesday. The Fed will also update their economic and monetary policy projections during this time. Any significant revisions to the Fed’s outlook on unemployment, GDP growth or their timetable for keeping key rates at current levels will also cause volatility in the markets and mortgage rates.
The Conference Board will post its Leading Economic Indicators (LEI) for February late Thursday morning. This index attempts to measure economic activity over the next three to six months. It is considered to be moderately important, but likely will not have a significant impact on mortgage rates. Current forecasts are calling for a 0.2% increase, meaning it is predicting that economic activity will likely expand modestly in the coming months. A smaller than forecasted rise, or better yet a decline would be considered good news for the bond market and mortgage rates.
Overall, I am considering Wednesday as the key day of the week with the Fed events scheduled. None of this week’s economic data is of too much concern, but it coupled with a sizable move in stocks can cause a moderate change in mortgage rates. The least important day will probably be Friday. The Fed events are just too important to the markets to ignore, so I am holding the current conservative stance on mortgage rates- at least for the time being.