Tightening, tightening, tightening

Investors are looking at the end of an era—that is, the Federal Reserve’s shift from a loose and easy policy (quantitative easing, or QE) to hawkish and tight (QT, or quantitative tightening). The Fed minutes yesterday revealed the central bank will begin dumping its mammoth holding of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities onto the market as soon as next month. While the pace of balance-sheet-reduction is more timid than expected, stocks sold off yesterday, as did bonds. Add it all up, and it’s bad news for, among others, house hunters. 


Wall Street is buzzing over the shift in Federal Reserve policy—the era of loose, rock-bottom interest rates is out. In are a series of rate hikes as the central bank tries to put the clamps on spending and cool off inflation.

The policy move is designed to have a huge impact on borrowing, too, and we’re already seeing the fallout in mortgage rates, with 30-year-mortgages crossing the 5% line yesterday, the first time since 2013. The central bank does not set mortgage rates, but its monetary policy more directly impacts 10-year Treasuries. Mortgage rates closely follow the trend line in long-dated Treasuries.

How high could interest rates ultimately go?

Following publication of the Fed’s FOMC minutes yesterday, BofA Securities published an investor note saying the investment bank now predicts Jerome Powell and his colleagues will trigger a series of three consecutive 50-basis point hikes at the May, June and July meetings. After that, they see 25-basis-point hikes in every meeting stretching out to May 2023. When the dust clears, they see the federal funds rate tripling from today’s level to the 3.25-3.50% range, all of which could ultimately add further turmoil to an already volatile U.S. housing market.

“Markets are close to our view,” write BofA economists Ethan Harris and Aditya Bhave write. Here’s their chart:

The markets will also be closely watching QT, short for quantitative tightening. During the pandemic, the Fed bought up trillions in Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities to keep the economy falling off a cliff during lockdowns. Yesterday, the Fed confirmed it will be winding down its $9 trillion balance sheet, meaning the whale of whales is finally getting out of the market in a big way. The central bank has signaled it’s likely to simply let the maturing Treasury notes it holds to mature, and then decide not to roll them over. But for mortgage-backed securities (MBS) it’s exploring an outright sale of at least a portion of these assets.

The Dallas Fed last year showed that the Fed’s MBS buying spree did push down mortgage rates for home-buyers, at least in the short term. The impact though of the move takes time to show up in the form of a change to mortgage rates.

What prospective home buyers may want to keep an eye on is Treasuries, and that measure is looking iffy. Yesterday’s Fed move did succeed in pushing the 10-year Treasury to an intraday high of 2.656%, a level last reached in 2019, according to Deutsche Bank.

Fortune‘s Lance Lambert did the math on what rising mortgages means for borrowers. Consider that on 30-year mortgage carrying a 4.67% interest rate (reminder: it touched above 5% yesterday) would mean a borrower who took out $400,000 would be on the hook for a monthly payment of $2,067.

In other words, expect more volatility in the housing market.