Santa Fe Las Campanas Market Report

Friday’s bond market has opened up sharply after this morning’s key economic data showed much weaker than expected economic activity. The stock markets are reacting as we would expect them to, with sizable losses, but are well above earlier lows. The Dow is currently down 62 points after losing over 150 points earlier. The Nasdaq is now down 6 points, up from the 41 points drop it was showing a little while ago. The bond market is currently up 26/32, which will likely improve this morning’s mortgage rates by approximately .250 – .375 of a discount point.
This morning had three pieces of economic data released, one of which is the single most important report we see each quarter. The preliminary reading of the 2nd Quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is that release, coming early this morning. It showed that the economy grew at an annual rate of 1.3% in the second quarter of the year. This was well below forecasts of a 1.7% pace, meaning that the economy was much weaker than many had thought. Also worth noting was a significant downward revision to the 1st quarter’s GDP that was changed from 1.9% to a measly 0.4%. The age of the revision limits its influence on trading today, but it does show that the economy came precariously close to contraction last during the first three months of the year.
The second report of the day was the 2nd Quarter Employment Cost Index (ECI) that measures employers’ costs for wages and benefits. It came in showing a 0.7% increase, indicating that employers had to pay more for wages and benefits than the previous quarter. This could become a concern if the pattern continues at the current trend because wage inflation easily spreads to other parts of the economy, making long-term securities such as mortgage-related bonds less attractive to investors.
The final report of the day came from the University of Michigan, who updated their Index of Consumer Sentiment for July. They announced a revised reading of 63.7 that was a very slight change from the preliminary reading of 63.8 and current forecasts of the same. Rising levels of consumer sentiment is bad news for the bond market because consumers that are more confident about their financial situations are more apt to make large purchases in the near future. Since consumer spending makes up two-thirds of the U.S. economy, the bond market prefers to see waning confidence. We would ideally have liked to have seen a decline in confidence, but due to the importance of the GDP reading, it would have taken a significant revision for this data to have much of an impact on today’s rates.
This morning’s trading in stocks and bonds is being fueled mostly by the GDP reading that raised concerns about the ability of the economy to continue to grow on its own at a pace sufficient enough to lower the unemployment rate. With such a slow rate of growth during the first half of the year, many analysts now need to adjust their full year and future estimates for the economy and timetable of Fed action to monetary policy. Today’s news makes it extremely unlikely that the Fed will raise key short-term interest rates anytime soon and in fact may need to take additional measure to boost activity rather than slow it down to control inflation. In other words, the GDP report was overwhelmingly good news for the bond market and mortgage rates, both short-term and long-term.
Next week is very active in terms of relevant economic data being posted. It starts with an important report Monday (ISM Index) and closes with the almighty monthly Employment report Friday morning. There are plenty of releases in between also. In addition, Tuesday is the deadline for raising the debt ceiling or the U.S. is likely to default on some of its obligations. Weekend news out of Washington on that subject will also heavily influence the markets and rates Monday and Tuesday.