We know, we know, a mortgage meltdown sounds like a claim coming out of left field. However, it comes from a potentially big issue that no one is paying attention to—the fact that the Fed is winding down its massive $1.6tn+ mortgage bond portfolio. As the Fed has begun to unwind its MBS portfolio, there are growing worries over the economy and real estate market. This could lead to a mortgage shock. Spreads between MBS and Treasuries have already risen as investors have grown nervous about oversupply.
FINSUM: So this is more of a technical issue than a fundamental one, but given the confluence of negative sentiment and oversupply, there is certainly some significant risk on the horizon for MBS.
There was a lot of anxiety yesterday about what the Fed might do. The big banks were taking the opposite side of markets, saying that the pace of rate cuts that investors expected were unrealistic. Then Fed chief Powell spoke and it became clear that markets were right, the Fed is completely dovish and has fallen in line with investor expectations. Powell signaled that rate cuts were on the immediate horizon, which has led markets to up their odds-making of a rate cut in July to 100%.
FINSUM: Powell was about as dovish as a central banker ever gets short of the middle of a crisis. For us this is quite an unusual situation—an economy doing well with both of the Fed’s dual targets being met, yet there is an undeniable sentiment towards cutting rates.
There is a lot riding on the results of the Fed’s meeting this week. Every big bank is weighing in and the consensus is that the markets have gotten too dovish in their projections and that the Fed won’t cut now, or as quickly as investors expect, all of which will lead to a decline in stocks. Both UBS and Goldman think that the pace of rate cuts forecasted by markets would only make sense in a recession, which seems unlikely. Morgan Stanley says stocks are very vulnerable to a decline if the Fed doesn’t cut as it will shift expectations and lead to tighter conditions. JP Morgan thinks equities will decline even if the Fed does cut.
FINSUM: We think the Fed will stay on hold for now but signal cuts in the Fall. We expect this will have a neutral to mildly negative effect on share prices.
You may normally think of it in terms of stocks, but “buy low, sell high” applies to bonds just as much, and that is a good way to think of the market right now. With yields having fallen so far since last year, one strategist said it was time to accept the “the present the Fed has given us”, and swap out bonds for floating rate securities, which have lagged this rally. The scale of returns in the bond market is impressive. For instance, the iShares 20+ year Treasury Bond ETF has risen over 9% since the beginning of the year.
FINSUM: It seems unlikely to us that bond yields are going to drop much further, which means there is little reason to wait for further gains.
Deutsche Bank is an uber dove. The bank has just come out saying it expects the Fed to make three full rate cuts before the end of the year. “Over the past month, downside risks to the outlook for the US economy and Fed have built”, said Deutsche Bank, continuing that a mix of different concerns, from the trade war to weak inflation, are pointing to “more negative outcomes”. Pimco thinks the Fed won’t cut this month, but that it may cut by 50 bp in July, saying “we wouldn’t expect Fed officials to wait for the economic data to confirm declining US growth — if they do, they could risk a more meaningful shock to economic activity”.
FINSUM: The odds of a downturn certainly seem higher than an upturn, which means the Fed is much more likely to cut than to hike. That said, three rate hikes in the next six months sounds a bit aggressive to us, especially because the Fed would want to leave some firepower if the economy really heads downward.