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Keepin' It Real Estate: The Fed Loses the Mortgage-Rate Battle?


Borrowers scramble to lock in terms.

Despite the best efforts of the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department, the free market is winning the battle over mortgage rates. Tens of trillions of dollars in support for the financial system can't change the stark reality: Giving out home loans remains risky business.

Borrowers looking to take advantage of rock-bottom interest rates are seeing the opportunity slip through their fingers, as rates have risen by more than 0.50% in the past few weeks.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the pop in rates is due to expectations of economic recovery, combined with fears that the mounting pile of debt incurred by Washington's central economic planners may not be sustainable. As the government prints money and plunges the country into an ever-deeper deficit, holders of US Treasuries (e.g. China) are getting skittish. These investors are quietly demanding a higher return on their bet that our economy will pull out of its current tailspin.

This, in turn, is pushing up mortgage rates, which doesn't bode well for nascent signs of recovery. Big lenders like Wells Fargo (WFC), Bank of America (BAC) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM) -- despite offloading nearly all default risk to taxpayers via Fannie Mae (FNM), Freddie Mac (FRE), or the Federal Housing Administration -- are asking prospective borrowers to pony up hefty points up front to get the lowest rate possible.

And this at a time when pundits and performance-chasing portfolio managers are latching onto the absurd notion that the nation's housing market is making some sort of fundamentally sound turnaround. A contributor to CNBC actually said with a straight face that our economy can't grow with mortgage rates this "high," and that the Fed is derailing the recovery by letting rates move up.

To say that our economy is undergoing some sort of legitimate recovery, and at the same time assert mortgage rates a hair above 5% are too high is to confirm that those declaring the recession in our rear view mirror are delusional at best, talking their book at worst.

As renewed fears of inflation percolate and investors begin to snatch up commodities in expectation of future prices, pressure will mount on the Fed to keep rates of all kinds low to ensure the economy doesn't remain mired in its current malaise. This means more printing press activity, more "quantitative" easing, and more social-welfare programs packaged as "progressive" economic policy.

Battle lines are being drawn: Washington bureaucrats on one side, advancing the theory that money can be printed seemingly without limit to generate legitimate economic growth - and the market on the other. And each time the Fed takes its foot off the dollar-debasement accelerator, we get a peek into what will happen when the printing presses finally run out of ink.
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