Fed Puts Brakes on Rate Increases

The Federal Reserve voted to leave interest rates unchanged Wednesday and signaled that it’s not in any hurry to resume raising rates in 2019. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell used words like “patient” to describe the Fed’s latest approach to increases. His change in tone follows four rate hikes last year. The Fed’s benchmark rate is not directly tied to mortgage rates but does often influence them.

Since the Fed has indicated a more cautious tone about the future of rate hikes, mortgage financing giant Freddie Mac has revised its mortgage rate forecasts to a lower average for 2019.

After climbing for several months, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rates began to let up at the end of the year, averaging 4.6 percent in 2018 and falling to a nine-month low of 4.45 percent in early January.

Freddie Mac predicts that 30-year fixed-rate mortgages will now average 4.7 percent this year and 4.9 percent in 2020. Freddie Mac’s Economic Research Group says in its January forecast that it expects the moderation in mortgage rates to offer some relief to the previously strained housing market. “Home buyers are very sensitive to changing interest rates and will likely respond positively if mortgage rates remain below 5 percent,” says Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist.

The Fed’s rate hike in December was its ninth quarter-point increase in the past three years since the Fed began to gradually raise rates from record lows in December 2014. After Wednesday’s meeting, the Fed will keep its key short-term rate in a range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent.

“In light of global economic and financial developments and muted inflation pressures, the committee will be patient as it determines what future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate may be appropriate,” a statement from the Federal Reserve read. The Fed said that economic activity has been “rising at a solid rate” and it does expect continued growth, but noted several political uncertainties—such as fallout from the government shutdown—and a slowdown in foreign economies as reason for a more cautionary approach.

Source: Freddie Mac and “Federal Reserve leaves rates unchanged, stresses patience,” HousingWire (Jan. 30, 2019)