THE BASIS POINT

WeeklyBasis 10/22: HUGE Market Week Ahead

Rates dropped .125% last week but are still up .25% from all-time record lows set the week of October 3. Next week is huge for U.S. economic data, corporate earnings, and Eurozone debt crisis updates.

I’ll quickly recap last week, then preview what’s coming. Also please note: loan limits weren’t increased in Washington last week, just discussed.

Recap Oct 17-21 Market Week
Last week’s slight rate drop was due to mortgage bonds remaining a safe investment amidst global market uncertainty. Rates drop when bond prices rise on buying. Here are the key stats:

Weekly jobless claims were 403k, close to the 400k mark below which the job market is considered to be improving. The 4-week moving average was also reported at 403k. This is better economic news if it holds.

Consumer and producer inflation were both near the 2% Fed comfort zone: CPI 3.9% and PPI 6.9%. Even the Fed’s preferred ‘Core’ readings that exclude food and energy crept up: Core CPI 2% and Core PPI 2.5%.

Manufacturing is still weak, measured by two key regional October surveys. Philly Fed (PA) was 8.7, up from September’s -17.5, the first positive in 3 months. Empire State (NY) was -8.48 vs. -8.82 September, fifth straight monthly contraction. For both surveys, 0 is line between growth/contraction.

Existing Home Sales were down 3.0% in September but up 11.3% since September 2010. UGLY STAT: 18% of contracts didn’t close, same as August but up from 9% in September 2010. This was due to homes not appraising for contract price and buyers getting cold feet after inspections.

Preview Oct 24-28 Market Week
Here are next week’s economic calendar highlights with rate impacts:

August Home Prices: Tuesday brings Case Shiller and FHFA home price reports. Case Shiller was up 0.9% in July, the fourth straight monthly gain, but prices were down 4.1% since July 2010. It’s the broadest home price measure. The FHFA report only measures prices of homes with Fannie/Freddie mortgages. Annual Case Shiller figures aren’t likely to go positive, so rates even.

GDP: Thursday is the first of three 3Q2011 GDP readings. Estimates range from 2% to 2.5% economic growth, compared to 1.3% for 2Q and 0.4% for 1Q. And remember 1Q was revised down sharply along with the first 2Q release. Rates up if higher-end estimates prevail.

Consumer inflation: Friday brings the Fed’s favorite measure of consumer inflation, the Personal Consumption Expenditures Index (PCE) for September. The Fed looks for ‘Core’ PCE (which excludes food and energy prices) to be 2% or less. In August, PCE was 2.9% total and 1.6% Core. Rates up if Core hits 2% or more.

Corporate Earnings: 790 companies report earnings this week including Caterpillar, Netflix, Amazon, UPS, Ford, Boeing, Exxon, Procter & Gamble, and Altria.

Technical Trading Factors: On the stock side, the S&P 500 has traded above key overhead resistance levels and is around its 200 day moving average. On the mortgage bond side, the FNMA 3.5% coupon (that most lenders watch to price rate sheets) is just below it’s 50 day moving average. If anything, the charts look like stocks correct a bit and bonds hold.

Europe Drives Everything: Economic data and earnings will still take a back seat to Europe. This weekend, the 27 EU leaders met then the 17 Eurozone leaders met separately to discuss options. Their latest: To be properly capitalized for Eurozone defaults (my words, there was no explicit mention of defaults), European banks need about 100b euros in capital after marking their sovereign-debt holdings to market values. This estimate looks low. Let’s not forget that during testimony Q&A back in July 18, 2007, Ben Bernanke told congress subprime losses would be contained to “$50 to $100 billion,” then a few weeks later he said it could be “several multiples of that,” then one year later financial markets imploded. The same EU/Eurozone leaders meet again this Wednesday, October 26 to fine tune a plan. Markets await.

Bottom Line For Rates: Rates will be extremely volatile next week, but it’s hard to see rates spiking since European uncertainty will likely cap stock gains. Rates should trade in a +/- .125% range next week. I’m holding to my premise that rates can touch record lows as Eurozone issues play out. Here’s a MUST READ to explain this: How To Shop For A Mortgage.