Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Chicago's Mortgage Choice - August 25, 2015 Real Estate Trends - The Dollar, Oil Prices and Rates

For months the markets have been totally focused upon how many jobs are added each month and how this might bring us closer to increases in rates. It is obvious that every month of more than 200,000 jobs added gets us closer and closer. But employment is not the only variable affecting the Federal Reserve Board's thinking. This month when China devalued their currency in a move they said would let market forces set the value, one of these variables was front and center. This variable is the value of the U.S. dollar. Why do we care about the value of the dollar? In the past year, the value of the dollar has gotten considerably stronger than other foreign currencies. This is actually good news because our economy seems to be getting stronger while others languish. To a consumer a stronger dollar is good because it lowers the cost of goods bought overseas and even makes vacations cheaper. It is bad for U.S. companies that do business overseas because our exports become more expensive. So a stronger dollar is a double-edged sword for our economy and thus the Federal Reserve Board. Overall, a strong dollar is good because it lowers the risk of inflation. And inflation is exactly what the Fed is looking to protect us from when they raise rates. With oil and gas prices going down and the dollar getting stronger, the risk of inflation is going down. Plus, the risk to our economy is rising and the recent drop in our stock market certainly reflects worries concerning this risk. The question is-will these factors convince the Fed to wait longer before they raise rates? At least for now, we have the best of all worlds -- a recovering economy, low rates, low gas prices and cheaper vacations to Europe! Keith Stewart 708-925-2562

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Chicago's Mortgage Choice - August 11, 2015 Real Estate Report - The Fed and Employment Data

The Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee met at the end of July. While they did not give a date to raise interest rates, they sounded optimistic that things were improving -- "The labor market continued to improve, with solid job gains and declining unemployment," the Fed statement said. And they are getting the markets ready with statements such as these: "The Committee anticipates that it will be appropriate to raise the target range for the federal funds rate when it has seen some further improvement in the labor market." Thus the importance of last Friday's employment data. There are only two reporting months for jobs between now and the next meeting of the Fed. Friday was one of these dates. What did it show? A solid gain of 215,000 jobs and a steady unemployment rate of 5.3%. Meanwhile, the labor participation rate remains stuck at a 62.6%, the lowest since the 1970's, and wages grew 0.2% last month, consistent with the growth of the past year. This data definitely tells us that, while we are creating jobs, we still have a long way to go with regard to wage growth and job market participation. The report brings the Fed closer to raising rates, but does not make an increase in rates in September a certainty. We must emphasize again that the Fed raising short-term interest rates does not necessarily mean that rates will skyrocket tomorrow. On the other hand, it will tell us that our era of record low rates is likely over and those who are looking for a better time to finance a major purchase such as a car or a home had better get moving. Keith Stewart 773-529-7000